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 17: Chiron's Last Stand

The air was cool and crisp as Gonsuke Kimishima moved about the grounds of his shrine, a broom in hand and a smile on his face. Working by the light of the nearby streetlights, and not needing or wanting anything further.

Over the course of his life, the shrine priest had seen much, endured much. He had seen fields of grass and forests filled with life as a youngster, and made such places his playgrounds. He had lived and trained about his family shrine, learning the ways of a priest from his father, just as he had learned from his own. He had witnessed humanity's capacity for violence, and had always been saddened by the atrocities such people willing subjected others to. He had lived through Second Impact, and had been both horrified by the destructive forces unleashed and gratified by the way nations had banded together to heal their world.

So now, with his own children sleeping securely in their beds, dreaming happy dreams, Gonsuke worked the grounds. Maintaining the air of serenity and peace that the shrine had always radiated, despite its close proximity to the city. Things that had always made him feel safe and secure in this place that was his home.

Ah, these late night rounds of mine, Gonsuke thought as he swept away a couple leaves on the ground. I know Junko doesn't like it when I take them, but this about the only time when I can enjoy a measure of peace and quiet.

Shaking his head at his wife's worrying ways, Gonsuke took a deep breath and stood straight, working out the kinks in his back. As much as he enjoyed these late nights, he knew that he would have to get some sleep soon. Otherwise, he wouldn't be able to keep up with his children in the morning. And seeing as they were just hitting their teens, he would need all the energy he could muster to keep them in line and teach them the ways of the family shrine.

Just as he was starting towards his home, however, Gonsuke paused in mid-step. The hairs on the back of his neck rising as the wind blew past him.

Something was wrong. Something was horribly wrong.

Every sense he had now on full alert, Gonsuke looked in the direction the ill wind had blown from. His eyes saw nothing, nor did he hear anything strange.

But that did nothing to erase his dread. In fact, the fact that there was nothing visibly wrong, nothing rational or ordinary to pin his unease on only made it worse. Causing Gonsuke's heart to pound that much more quickly as he stepped backwards, slowly retreating towards the relative safety of home. The only sounds reaching his ears were the faint whispers of the wind, his tender footsteps…and his heart pounding with growing fear.

Then an electric buzz was heard, followed by a flickering of light. Looking about, Gonsuke watched as one of the nearby streetlights sputtered hideously before exploding, shards of glass and electric sparks showering down upon the street. It wasn't long before another light followed its example, and then another. Light after light exploded, and soon the shrine was cloaked in darkness.

If Gonsuke had had any remaining doubts about his predicament, this would have erased them instantly. The priest narrowed his eyes even as he reached into his kimono, taking hold of the sutra talismans that resided there. Chanting the words taught him by his father, he worked to clear his mind. To free himself of the fear that was clouding his other senses. Keeping him from detecting…

"Good evening, priest," came a voice from the darkness. A voice that immediately set the priest on edge. Triggered every instinct that had been instilled by centuries of coexisting with things not of this Earth, that had been honed to sharpness by his training. "A little late to be…tending the grounds, isn't it?"

Sucking in sharp breath, Gonsuke took a stance of readiness as he continued to search the darkness. Then he caught sight of something nearby, something shrouded in the darkness left by the streetlights' destruction. Two slits of burning red that cut through the darkness that had spawned them, and that were drawing closer.

Hissing beneath his breath, Gonsuke drew back his arm, ready to throw the talismans with all his strength. "I don't what you are," he told the approaching entity. Summoning up all his courage in order to stand his ground. "But you have no business here at this shrine. I suggest you leave at once."

As the burning red slits continued to approach, the priest's courage suffered a blow when his words were met with a low, cruel chuckle. "Well, well, well," the creature muttered laughingly. "How unusual to find a mortal these days who knows something…unearthly when he sees it." The creature continued to draw closer, close enough for Gonsuke to begin to make out its form. It was roughly human in shape, but there was a definite wrongness to the way the different body parts meshed together. And didn't seem to walk so much as flow through the darkness. Like all of the night was its body, and all Gonsuke was looking at was the focus of its form.

"But you're wrong about one thing. I do have business at this shrine," the creature explained as it stepped even closer, shedding waves of darkness as it stood up straighter. By the time it was within a dozen feet of the priest, it was almost human in appearance, and garbed in dark clothing.

Gonsuke didn't relax his guard. The human shape only made him warier, for there was nothing right about it. The color of the skin, the eyes that still burned into him, the grin of pure malevolence this creature wore. It was as if something had stolen a human skin and was now wearing it like a costume. And though the general appearance was correct, it could not conceal the foul malignancy within. "What do you mean?"

The creature looked Gonsuke dead in the eye, and it was all the priest could do not to run away. "Several years ago, a map was entrusted to the former priest of this shrine," it oozed, its eyes lighting up an even deeper red. "And that map…is the reason I'm here."

"A map?" Gonsuke repeated, a deep frown furrowing his features as the creature's words awakened memories of times past. Of a summer roughly a year before Second Impact, when a stranger had come to his home, his shrine, and had met with his father. And while many memories of those more youthful times had faded, the oddity of the stranger's face and appearance had imprinted themselves in his mind.

The man had been a gaijin, a foreigner of western appearance, and had been garbed in biker apparel. But what had really stuck with Gonsuke was the haunted expression worn into the stranger's features. It was the look of a man who had traveled to hell and back so many times that it no longer held any true horror for him. A man who had been cursed for all time, and knew there was no escaping it. The stranger had met with Gonsuke's father, the two of them had exchanged a few words, words that had took had left the strong, indomitable priest pale with terror. He had then ushered the stranger into the office, and demanded that they not be disturbed for any reason. And when the stranger finally left, Gonsuke's father would not speak of what had transpired between them. No matter how Gonsuke or his mother tried, he refused to say a single word about it. He gave no reason, no excuse. He simply refused to speak of it.

The accident eventually passed from memory, and was forgotten entirely with the coming of Second Impact. And it remained forgotten until the day came that Gonsuke's father decided to pass on the title and duties of priesthood to him. And the new priest was given explicit instructions about the dangers of this map, and its nature.

Seeing the realization on Gonsuke's face, the creature smiled wickedly. "Yes. You know what I'm talking about," he oozed, taking another step closer. "Years ago, a…former enemy of mine successfully captured and sealed away beings of…immense power."

"Demons," Gonsuke whispered, his voice low with dread awe. Afraid of the reality even as he voiced it.

"That's right," the creature confirmed, looking at Gonsuke like he was a child who had just guessed that two plus two equals four. "He was a foolish, weak little man, like many of you mortals, who had rid himself of the power that enabled him to triumph over these creatures. And so was no longer capable of fighting them, should they ever be freed." Smirking in memory, the creature's crimson eyes blazed that much brighter. "Which is why he brought a map marking one of the locations here. To a family with a history of vanquishing demons."

A dread chill running down his back, Gonsuke took a tentative step backwards. "My father told me that…and more," he retorted, all his years of training coming to the fore. "He told me that I would need it, that it would warn me if the seal it led to was in danger of being broken. That I must always be ready to protect it." Focusing on the talismans in his hand, he then added, "And then he swore me to secrecy, to keep it safe from the likes of you!"

With this declaration, Gonsuke hurled the talismans at the creature. It didn't even move, and instead took the sutras head on. The instant they came in contact with him, each of them began to burn even as the creature's body began to turn dark. His human skin and even his dark clothing crumbled away, revealing something truly inhuman. It was still humanoid in shape, but with monstrous black spikes sprouting from his head and back. Its face contorting and twisting with malice as it swelled in size, wisps of darkness rising it up from its frame.

Hissing in disgust, Gonsuke backed away from the transformed monstrosity as he watched his talismans burn away to nothingness. He quickly grabbed for more of them, and dug out a circle of prayer beads. Chanting beneath his breath, he prepared for his greatest test. Only to halt when the creature looked at him…and laughed.

It laughed low and cruelly. Mocking Gonsuke's efforts against him. Mocking the priest's very existence.

"Humans," the demon hissed laughingly. "So sure of themselves. So sure of their supremacy, their infallibility. They plan, they strategize. They scatter their prisoners to the ends of the earth, always keeping them apart, always moving them from one so-called 'refuge' to another. Always thinking that such efforts will keep them safe." Before Gonsuke could do anything, say anything, the creature pounced upon him. Grabbing him by his wrists, he lifted the priest into the air. Raising him high enough to look him in the eye. "When all you ever succeed in doing is delaying the inevitable…and annoying me."

Staggered by his helplessness, Gonsuke began to struggle against the demon's implacable grip. Grunting in pain, the priest's efforts only succeeded in making the creature laugh. "It doesn't matter, though. I'll still get what I came for," the monster told him, showing off dozens of dagger-like teeth with its grin. "I'm sure your wife and children will be very cooperative…when I show them what will happen if they refuse me."

The demon issued another laugh, leaving Gonsuke to gasp in horror as he felt a wave of nausea assault him. Looking about wildly, the priest moaned as he saw his own arms begin to turn a sickly blue, his flesh shriveling up as the life was being driven from his body. And as the effect spread through him, he knew true despair. He knew that he had failed in his duty, not only as a priest. But also to his father, and his own family. For soon as he was dead, this demon would go to his wife and children, and present his corpse. Demand the map from them. And they would be unable to comply, simply because Gonsuke had never told them of the map's existence.

Tsune…Mizuki…Ryota…I'm sorry… Gonsuke thought as his mind began to cloud over. The world around him was being fogged over with the same darkness as the demon who held him. Kami…please have mercy on them…

Just before Gonsuke fell into the darkness, he heard something. It was very distant, but the dying priest could have sworn he had heard someone say something…


Freezing up, Blackheart immediately ceased his efforts, his spell of death sundered before it was completed. With the priest just on the edge of death, the creature of pure hatred turned and looked towards the source of the voice. And was greeted by the sight of another demon, cloaked in the form of a mortal human.

"What are you doing here, Father?" Blackheart growled, unable and unconcerned with concealing with outrage.

"I've come here to oversee your efforts. To make sure that you succeeded in eliminating the new Rider," Mephisto intoned as he approached. A look of purest scorn on his face. "And here I find you. Not only having failed in so simple a task, but you've left my…investment…unattended. Completely unguarded."

Growling in his throat, Blackheart turned and locked gazes with his detractor. "You needn't worry, Father. I'm taking precautions to insure Ikari's safety. The new Rider won't be able to so much as touch him." The demon of malice grinned cruelly, snorting at Mephisto's concerns. "Not that I'd worry too much about her."

"Really?" Mephisto retorted, narrowing his eyes at the other demon. "And why is that?"

"Because this Rider is a coward," Blackheart declared, savoring the words even as he spoke them. "I watched her as she made her only attempt on Ikari's life. I saw her tremble at the sight of the stains marking his soul." The demon chuckled at this, at the memory of the possessed German as she hesitated at the sight of the sea of evil surrounding Gendo. "Besides, she won't betray herself. Not even with his soul as the prize."

"For now, perhaps. But that won't last. Not with Zarathos wielding her," Mephisto countered, his eyes glowing as he began to shed his human guise. "He knows how to manipulate this new Rider. And more importantly, how to turn fear into hatred." Within seconds, the ruler of the underworld had completed his transformation, and had become a crimson demon with deep, cruel eyes. "Once she learns the truth about Ikari's deeds, she won't stop until he is dead. And that is something I cannot afford to have happen."

The monstrous being that was Blackheart snorted loudly. "I'm well aware of that, Father," he explained mockingly. "And that's why I'm here." Mephisto looked on impassively at the creature he had taken as his son, who proceeded to explain. "With the Hidden defeated, I've been tracking down some old associates of mine, and it turns out the essence of one of them was hidden here. In Japan." The demon gave a cruel shake of his prisoner, who wheezed in his torment. "And this priest…has a map that will lead me right to her."

Now it was Mephisto's turn to laugh. "A map. You need a map from a mortal?" he asked in a voice heavy with sarcasm.

"If I want to find her quickly, then yes," Blackheart retorted gruffly. "What's the matter, Father? I thought time was of the essence."

His eyes turning into slits, Mephisto growled, "If time is so important, than why are you wasting it on this mortal? Find this map of yours, and put it to use."

"That's exactly what I was planning on doing," Blackheart sneered. The ebon abomination then glared at the priest, and grinned wickedly. "Just as soon as I show this one the price of refusing me…"

"No," Mephisto ordered before Blackheart could renew his deadly curse. "Leave him be. Simply find the map and be on your way."

Growling deep in his throat, Blackheart glowered at the crimson monstrosity. A glower that Mephisto matched and exceeded, the two underworld beasts standing perfectly still, until at last at the dark horror snorted in disdain. "Showing mercy, Father?" he wondered as he set the priest down with surprising gentleness. "That's not like you."

"No, my son," Mephisto grinned, shaking his head as he looked down at the gentle priest. A rare man who glowed with the light of true innocence. "Mercy would have been allow you to finish what you started." He then returned his focus Blackheart, allowing his ire to surface. Taking pleasure in the way his adopted son quailed, no matter how well he concealed it, the crimson horror added, "And mercy is something you will beg for, unless you find that map and put it to use. Immediately."

Again, Blackheart growled his displeasure, but soon relented. Casting one last look at the priest, who was already slowly recovering from his brush with death, the malicious creature stalked off into the night. Moving quickly upon the hallowed ground, where few such creatures could ever tread.

Satisfied that his rebellious son had been put in his place, and would eventually track down the required object, Mephisto once again looked down upon the innocent priest. "When the time comes, holy man, you will wish that I had not stayed my son's hand," he told him, thinking of the dark times that were soon to come. "Instead, you will be here to witness the birth of the new Hell…and my new age of glory." Chuckling at this, at the picture of this world's future, Mephisto found himself looking forward to the reward that all this innocent priest's goodness will ultimately reap him. "Perhaps, when that is done…I'll let my son have his fun with you. He will have all of eternity…to make you scream."

The Ghost Rider couldn't remember the last time she had had so much fun.

Fully aware of the spotlight beam from the one Section 2 copter that had managed to keep track of her, the horned motorcyclist guided her mechanical steed towards an abandoned warehouse. Just one of many that had been emptied as people decided that a city that was under constant threat of annihilation wasn't the best place to live. And thus the perfect place for her brilliant strategy.

Aiming the Ghostcycle at one of the doors, the demonic biker gestured at it. With a thought, a spiked chain exploded from her wrist, smashing into the door with just enough force to knock it open without knocking it down. With the path clear, the Ghost Rider rode into the dark, gloomy confines of the warehouse. The rumbles of her bike's engine echoing as she disembarked and moved towards the door.

Sparing a moment to look outside, the skull-faced biker grinned as the Section 2 helicopter settled into an easy orbit above the warehouse. "Heh! So far, so good!" the Ghost Rider chortled before slamming the door shut. Certain that her heart would be pounding if she still had one, she darted towards the center of the abandoned structure. There, hidden in the gloom of the warehouse she had escaped to, was the Battle Skull, waiting right where she had left it just that day. Looking fierce and monstrous and hungry for battle.

Just like me, the Ghost Rider thought wickedly as she moved to the back of the armored vehicle. Flinging open the back doors, she barely paid attention to searchlight shining through the many cracks in the roof. Instead, she leapt into the Battle Skull, fully aware of the time constraints that were now on her.

Even with a bunch of idiots like our own Keystone Kops, it shouldn't take too long for the rest of the gang to show up, the horned motorcyclist thought. And I have to have everything ready before that happens!

Then I suggest you move quickly, young Rider, Zarathos prodded, his hunger clear with every word he spoke. Once our pursuers have surrounded this place, I doubt they will wait very long before storming inside.

Yeah, I kinda figured that one out. Section 2 people might not have any brains, but they all know how to shoot something right in front of them, the Ghost Rider returned as she tore open the storage lockers that lined the walls of the Battle Skull. So while we're waiting for the rest of the guests to arrive, I think I'll get some additional…party favors!

Rubbing her burning hands in delight as she surveyed the selection of weapons that lay in wait within, the Ghost Rider then began bringing out a selection of armaments. First she clipped a set of progressive knives to the strap that held her sword's sheath in place, as well as several grenades within her jacket. A couple of positronic machine guns were easily clipped to her belt, and a rocket launcher was readily slung over her shoulder. Finally, a Gatling-repulsor found a home in her right hand, and a bag filled with high explosives was held in her left.

Ah, you gotta love that Iron Bimbo! the Ghost Rider grinned as she held up the massive weapon, felt the weight it had, even with her superhuman strength. She may have burned us, but she left us with quite a treasure trove in the process!

Obviously, she was hoping to use us to keep NERV distracted while she made plans of her own, Zarathos growled deeply. All the more reason to remind her who her betters are.

No arguments here, Big Z,the Ghost Rider nodded. But for now, let's let her think her plan's still working. Then she cocked her head somewhat, listening to the growing sounds of activity coming from outside. Instead of one helicopter, there was now at least four hovering above the warehouse, and numerous cars surrounding it. And through the walls she could see a host of stained souls taking up position outside. Well, well. Looks like the guests are all here!

In which case, it seems only appropriate that we send them a suitable greeting. Wouldn't you agree, young Rider? Zarathos oozed deviously.

Absolutely! It's time for Phase 2 of my brilliant master plan! the Ghost Rider nodded. Now, you know what to do, right?

Certainly, Zaratho returned rather haughtily. It's not as if I am a stranger to the ways of battle.

Then get the Ghostcycle ready, Big Z! the Ghost Rider. It's time for the stunt double to get dirty!

As the Ghost Rider continued to prepare, the massive motorcycle rolled up to her, the flames of Hell already rising up high above it. Flames that slowly changed, become more solid as they resolved into a humanoid figure. A figure that was then covered with clothes identical to her own, and that sprouted horns of its own. Soon, an exact duplicate of the Ghost Rider sat upon the monstrous bike, her hands tight upon the handlebars.

Perfect, Big Z! the Ghost grinned as she surveyed their handiwork. And it's even almost as attractive as the real thing!

However, I must warn you once again that spreading my power out to your double will weaken the performance of the bike somewhat, Zarathos warned her. Even though much of its power is now supplied by the arc reactor Mana placed within it, it still requires the power granted it by the flames of Hell. Sustaining the duplicate will slow it down somewhat, and weaken its battle capacity.

Not a problem. I just need it to keep those losers busy for a little while, the Ghost Rider replied, not at all concerned. Now send it on out there! There's just one more thing I've got to do before we're ready to party!

Very well, then, Zarathos growled. With a heavy roar, the Ghostcycle's wheels dug into the floor, leaving a trail of hellfire in the concrete as it raced towards the door.

Braking as hard as he could, Captain Chiron brought his poor, mutilated car to a screeching halt before the small army that had surrounded the warehouse that the Ghost Rider had taken refuge in. Taking a moment to survey the disarray that his people were in, he did the very first thing he knew he had to do. Take control of the situation.

Fetching a portable radio unit before stepping out into the open, the Captain eyed the four helicopters presently circling overhead. "Echo Units, this is Captain Chiron," he muttered tersely, his heart pounding fiercely. Anger, excitement, the nearness of the kill, as well as a lingering buzz from a fun night of barhopping, all these things came together as he eyed the decrepit hole where his quarry had gone to ground. "Sitrep! Talk to me!"

"Sir, this is Echo 1!" came a voice over the radio. "The target is still inside the warehouse. Repeat, still inside! There's been no sign of movement since she went inside, sir!"

Nodding to this, Chiron quickly considered the situation. Over the past several minutes, he had been in contact with the various units that had joined the pursuit, discovering what teams he had to work with at the moment, and what was still on the way. "Alright. Now listen, and listen good! Teams 3, 9, and 14, take up flanking positions at every entrance! Teams 4, 8, and 13, form a perimeter around the warehouse! I don't want anything, human or otherwise, getting in or out of there! You copy that?!"

"Yes, sir!" several people chorused over his radio. Moving with the kind of discipline and precision he always wanted but rarely got from the people under his command, the various teams moved into the positions desired of them.

"Echo 3, 6, and 7, continue to stand by! If that horned bitch somehow gets past our people, I want you ready to pursue. Echo 1, I want you to maintain your position at all times. I want eyes up there, you got that?" Chiron told them, not willing to take any chances. Not when his prey was so close. "Team 1, take the north entrance. Team 2, the south. Team 6, the west. As soon as I give the word, go in and blow that bitch away! Don't even bother trying to take her alive! I want her down permanently! Is that understood?!"

"Yes, sir!" was the response given him by the many people under his command. Again, Chiron was gratified to see his troops quickly and efficiently following his orders to the letter. In less than a minute, Section 2 agents loaded for demon were standing ready. Waiting only for his word to begin tearing apart the warehouse for both the Ghost Rider and for whatever Kirishima technology she might have.

Taking a moment to savor the victory that seemed so near, Chiron stared hard at the warehouse, as if he could see his prey through its walls. By the time this was over, not only would the thorn called the Ghost Rider be permanently removed from NERV's side, but he would personally place the secret of the arc reactor into Commander Ikari's hands. And after that…who knows? the Section 2 head thought, indulging in a moment of fantasy. A promotion? Maybe a different position? Like maybe…Operations Director? As this thought ran its course, Chiron was forced to stifle a laugh as he thought of Misato Katsuragi shrieking in outrage as he took her job.

Yeah, that would serve the purple-haired whore right, Chiron chuckled deep in his throat. His mirth cut short by the sound of a monstrous engine bellowing like a mechanical beast.

Instantly tensing up, the Section 2 head found his eyes drawn to one of the doorways. Just in time to see the door fly from its frame, shattered as his quarry exploded back into the night, every bit as ghoulish and horrible as she had been before.

Time seemed to slow down as Chiron watched what happened next, allowing him to take in every single detail and burn them into his memory. Taken by surprise, the team assigned to that door quickly recovered. Without even being ordered to do so, each and every member of that team opened fire on the Ghost Rider, filling the air between her and them with a hailstorm of bullets that even a fly couldn't hope to thread its way through. And not even a single round connected, for the flames of the demonic biker and her steed rose up and intercepted the barrage, melting each and every bullet before it could reach its target.

Then, just as horror registered on the face of each member of that team, the Ghost Rider grinned ghoulishly before returning their attack in kind. Twin Gatling guns appeared from the side of her bike, spewing bolts of flame that tore through the Section 2 agents without resistance. Leaving Chiron to watch and listen as each of them shrieked in pain before exploding into a plume of ash, leaving nothing but their clothes to sink to the ground.

While Chiron's mind was struggling with what he had just seen, the Ghost Rider continued onwards, driving through the pitiful remnants of his men like she didn't have a care in the world. Her mocking laughter hanging in the air, slowly transforming his shock into outrage.

"Captain Chiron, sir!" came a voice over his radio. "The guns, they…they didn't have any effect!"

"I know that!" Chiron snarled automatically. Heaving a deep breath, the Captain quickly considered the situation before he started barking orders. "Echo 3, 6, 7! Begin your pursuit! Don't you lose that bitch, or trust me, you're gonna lose a lot more than just your jobs!"

"Yes, sir!" came the panicked cries of his minions. Which was quickly followed by three of the helicopters moving to pursue the already distant Ghost Rider.

Momentarily gratified by the fear and obedience displayed by his troops, Chiron switched gears. Taking note of the ashes that used to be Team 2, the Section 2 head ordered, "Teams 1 and 6, stay with me! The rest of you, mount up and get after her! And from here on in, heavy ordinances only!"

"But, sir, we can't use that kind of firepower in a populated area!" one of the people beneath him protested.

"Do you really think that there's anyone living in this dump that somebody will actually miss?!" Chiron demanded, waving at the abandoned and condemned buildings that made up the old Hakone section of Tokyo-3. "Now, you listen and you listen good! I don't care what it takes! Do you hear me?! Level the buildings, turn this area into a parking lot, flash fry every squatter or druggie living out here! I don't care! I! Want! The! Ghost! Rider! DEAD!"

"Yes, sir!" the questioning agent squeaked out.

Watching as most of the teams moved out in pursuit, Chiron suffered a moment of pleasure in his ability to motivate the people beneath him. Once he was satisfied the many teams were in pursuit, he focused on the teams he'd order to remain. "The rest of you, get your asses in there! Check for any sign of Kirishima's equipment! If that horned bitch left something here, then I want it! Now!"

"Yes, sir!" came a chorus of voices.

So far, so good! the Ghost Rider chortled inwardly as she moved about the interior of the warehouse. Watching and delighting in the chaos caused by her machinations even as she set up for the next phase of her operation. Almost all of them are of chasing my stand-in! Just as we figured they would!

Of course they have. Now, to ready a welcome for those who remain, Zarathos chuckled cruelly. After all, as drunk and enraged as he is, Chiron won't be fool enough to send all his forces after the Ghostcycle. Not after we've spent so much time in here.

Of course not! If Commander Creep put him in charge, then he must have a slightly better grade of brainpower than most of his goons! the Ghost Rider returned. The demonic motorcyclist then looked down at the bag in her left hand. But don't worry! I've already got the perfect solution!

Cackling beneath her breath, the Ghost Rider rushed to one of the warehouse walls. Reaching into her little bag of tricks, she brought forth one of the explosive charges she had packed into it. Kneeling down before it, she planted the charge securely and switched it on. A beep and a red light signaling the charge's activation, the demonic rider patted it on the top before rising up. She then raced to another wall, and repeated this action. She did it again and again, until all the walls of the warehouse were rigged and ready.

"Now, all that's left is that one helicopter," the Ghost Rider murmured as she headed back to the Battle Skull. Eyeing the one searchlight that was still streaming down through the cracks in the roof, the burning blue orbs that were her eyes narrowed in sadistic amusement. "I guess we can't leave them out, now can we?"

Certainly not. That would be extremely rude of us, now wouldn't it? Zarathos chuckled wickedly.

"Exactly!" the Ghost Rider agreed with a sharp laugh. "So why don't you get little something ready for them while I take care of the rest?"

My pleasure, the demon within hissed. At Zarathos's word, the top of the Battle Skull slid open. A mechanical hiss sounded as a weapons turret fitted with a missile launcher rose into view, taking aim at the spy above.

Chuckling in anticipation, the Ghost Rider climbed into the Battle Skull and closed it up. Okay, you party animals! The cake is lit! the horned motorcyclist grinned, drawing forth a handheld detonator that looked much like one of the control yokes for Unit 02. Make a wish…before you all go to HELL!

With a final laugh, the Ghost Rider thumbed the detonator switch…and filled the air with a roar of destruction. Which was soon followed by screams of terror and pain.

As Chiron stood back from the warehouse, watching from what he considered to be a safe distance, he ground his teeth impatiently as the teams that remained quickly checked the doorways. Making doubly and even triply certain that they weren't booby-trapped, or rigged or tampered with in any way.

On the one hand, Chiron knew that this was the smart thing to do. The Ghost Rider had been in the warehouse for some time before they had arrived, and the fact that she had run directly here, only reappearing when his troops were about to go in, said very bad things to him. In all likelihood, the warehouse had been rigged as part of some kind of trap. And if that were the case, then the chances of there being any Kirishima technology remaining there weren't good.

But on the other hand, Chiron was loathe to admit failure, especially now. He had already lost a team of men to the Ghost Rider, and the idea of conceding a battle to anyone, especially a female of any kind, age, or race, was a galling one to him. Especially considering the fact that, if he gave up now, he would eventually have to report to Commander Ikari that he had ordered this chase, had lost an entire team of agents to the Ghost Rider, and had absolutely nothing to show for it.

In the years Chiron had worked beneath Gendo, he knew that NERV's commander cared little about losses of life. Nor did he have any use for people who he couldn't use in one way or another. And he knew that if Section 2 didn't either acquire the arc reactor or the Ghost Rider's corpse that night…then his days of glory would be numbered. In very small numbers.

Besides, it wasn't as if Chiron gave a damn if he lost a few incompetents, either. Not as long as he got what he wanted.

Watching from a safe distance, not so willing to risk his own life and limbs, Chiron waited and listened to his men work. Until at last one of them reported, "We've checked the door, sir. No sign of tampering. We're ready to go in."

"Then don't waste time talking to me!" Chiron told them tersely. "Get in there and sweep the -!"

Before he could complete this sentence, a massive roar of thunder was heard just before the warehouse walls exploded outwards. Bowled over by the resulting shockwave, Chiron fell to the ground, momentarily stunned. When he managed to recover, he looked up just in time to watch as plumes of fire engulfed both the building and the teams that remained there. Their death shrieks filled his ears as the building collapsed into nothingness, leaving a funeral pyre in their memory.

His mouth falling open in shock, Chiron then grunted hatefully as he struggled back to his feet. More lost men, lost time, lost advantages filling his mind even as he tried to recover from this. "What the hell was that?!" came the voice of Echo 1. "Dammit, the whole place is gone!"

Growling fiercely, Chiron brought up the radio. "Echo 1, this is Chiron! Any damage?"

"Negative, sir!" Echo 1 returned, sounding more than a little relieved at his escape. "The blast didn't reach us."

Nodding, Chiron eyed the blaze suspiciously. Recalling the last shattered warehouse he had seen, and the ruined technology that had been there. "What about the warehouse?" he demanded, hoping to salvage something from this. "Can you see anything through the fire?!"

"Negative! There's too much smoke, and -!" Cutting himself off, Echo 1 paused before continuing. "Hold on, sir. I…I think I got something…"

"What?" Chiron asked, pouncing on his subordinate's hesitation like a cat on its prey. "What do you see?"

"It…it looks like – oh, shit!" These turned out to be Echo 1's last words. For out of the roaring bonfire, a missile rocketed up to the helicopter, and struck it dead center. The resulting explosion caused the helicopter to split open like an overripe melon, shards of which were sent flying all over the area.

Again shielding his face and realizing that he would have that much more to explain when this was over, Chiron grunted as shrapnel pelted both him and the landscape. Wincing at a few stinging impacts, the Section 2 head let out a loud, scathing oath…just before he heard another engine roaring to life. Causing Chiron to forget his pain, the smoke that was already spilling out towards him, the mounting disasters, and search the flames. And then gasp when he saw a monstrous van emerge from the blaze, completely unscathed by the forces that had leveled the warehouse.

Wait a minute, Chiron thought as he studied the monstrous truck, the demonic visage with jutting teeth that protruded from its armored grill. His thoughts already going elsewhere, to his own reports. Reports that indicated that there had been a large van or truck within the warehouse where what could only be Mana Kirishima's remains had been found. Is that…could it be -?!

Even as Chiron's mind went blank as what was possibly his salvation rolled closer, the massive vehicle turned just enough to give him a look through the driver's side window. And once again, the Section 2 head's mouth fell open when he saw what could only be the Ghost Rider sitting at the wheel.

As Chiron stood behind his defaced car, completely frozen with astonishment, the Ghost Rider maneuvered her vehicle closer to him. "Good evening, Captain Chiron!" she told him, her polite words completely at odds with the tone with which they were spoken. "You enjoying my little party so far? Because I know I am!"

A party. That's what the Ghost Rider thought this was. Just a little game to be played with NERV's finest. Like they were simple beasts of the field, to be killed just for the pleasure of it.

This insulation made its way into Chiron's brain, and the resulting heat from it caused steam to start pouring out of his ears. "Why…you…!"

"Well, not that it hasn't been fun, but I better get going. Got lots of fish to fry tonight," the Ghost Rider went on. Clearly savoring every word she spoke. "And whole lot bigger fish than you." Cackling at her own wit, the fiery demon then gave Chiron a salute of the one-fingered variety before flooring the accelerator. With a heavy roar, she and her armored van rode off in a completely different direction than her motorcycle had gone in.

For a time, Chiron stood there, staring after the massive van and the blazing tracks it had left. His mind barely functional after everything that had happened, and thus slow to recover enough to be at all functional. And when it did, Iwao Chiron, the man charged with heading NERV's secret police, practically exploded into flames himself.

It wasn't bad enough that he had been taunted into what had quickly turned into a trap. It wasn't bad enough that the Ghost Rider had somehow suckered him into sending the majority of his troops after what was, in retrospect, an obvious decoy. It wasn't bad enough that he had lost several men in another trap, or that the Ghost Rider was now riding off with perhaps the only thing that could save his neck from landing on the chopping block. He had suffered something even worse than all these things combined.

The Ghost Rider, a woman, had passed him by without even attempting to kill him. Treating him like he was so far beneath her, that he wasn't even worth killing. Like something to be scraped off the bottom of her boot.

And as these many things combined inside his mind, Chiron forgot everything. His losses, Kirishima's technology. All of it was forgotten as the burning need for revenge took hold within him. Causing him to nearly crush his radio as he got back into his car.

"Attention, all Section 2 units! This is Captain Chiron speaking!" the Section 2 head roared even as he revved his car back to life. "Break off your pursuit immediately!"

"What?" came the voice of his men, a voice that was echoed by various noises of confusion. "Break off? But we have the Ghost Rider right in our -!"

"That's a decoy, dammit!" Chiron roared as he began following the still-burning trail of his prey. "The real Ghost Rider is in a large, armored van! Heading west into the lower Hakone region!" Growling as he hit a large crater in the road and was belatedly reminded that headlights were a good idea at this time of night, Chiron switched them on. Never once looking away from the trail he was following. "All of you, lock in on my location! Echo Units, begin sweeping the area until you spot her!"

"But…what about…the other Ghost Rider? The one on the bike?" one of the men beneath him asked inanely. "Should we -?"

"Disregard that fake and get your asses here immediately!" Chiron howled hatefully. When his order was greeted with silence, he gritted his teeth and added, "You have your orders, damn you! Now either follow them or eat your own goddamned guns! Is that clear?!"

This time, there was no hesitation as the Section 2 agents replied as one, "Yes, sir!"

Damn, could this be working any more perfectly? the Ghost Rider thought happily as she drove the Battle Skull at full throttle. Completely ignoring the many bumps and craters left in the badly maintained streets of what had once been Hakone. And making sure to keep well aware of the headlights of the lone car now pursuing her. I keep leaving these idiots bait, and they keep swallowing it!

It's not surprising, young Rider. After all, I've seen many an army be damned by their own incompetence, Zarathos grinned within her mind. But you had better get ready. It won't be long before Chiron calls in his troops, and…

I know, Big Z! Don't forget that I'm the one who came up with this plan! the Ghost Rider returned haughtily. Just be sure to keep this thing rolling! Or are you going to have trouble with two rides at once?

Not a problem, young Rider, Zarathos retorted. Their power will be somewhat diminished, but they will remain fully functional. Especially once I dissolve you doppelganger on the Ghostcycle.

Glad to hear to hear it, the Ghost Rider returned as she surveyed the terrain. Before long, she came within sight of an old, listing building with several holes in the wall. And best of all, no living auras, innocent or otherwise, were in evidence. Well, this looks like my stop! Flinging open the door, the horned rider flung herself from her seat. With unbelievable ease, she flew through the air and came to land on her feet even as the Battle Skull rode off, leaving behind its distinctive trail for Chiron to follow. Heedless of the additional weight she was carrying, she darted off inside the building and immediately dropped out of sight.

Making absolutely certain that not a portion of her fiery body was in view, the Ghost Rider lay in wait. Every sense she possessed, human and otherwise, at high alert. And thus letting her know when Chiron's mutilated car came roaring past. Not stopping, not slowing down. Its driver not paying attention to anything but the fiery tracks that he was following.

Ah, thank Gott for such complete idiots! the Ghost Rider thought. Rising up just enough to make certain that the coast was clear, the demonic motorcyclist then raced out into the open. Keeping alert for any indication that the helicopters or any other Section 2 units were heading her way, she quickly scanned the nearby buildings. It only took a few moments before she sighted an abandoned apartment complex that looked to be in almost as bad condition as Rei's. Even better from her perspective, it was ringed by a wire fence and marked with a large sign. And while the German girl's knowledge of Japanese kanji was spotty at best, she had learned enough to be able to read the word 'condemned'.

Perfect! A high up vantage point, and no morons to get in my way! the Ghost Rider thought, grinning gleefully even as she started forward. Making sure to keep to the shadows, it wasn't long before she was closing in on her destination. Gathering herself up, she sprung up into the air, leaping the fence in one easy jump.

Stumbling forward slightly, the Ghost Rider paused just long enough to look at the fence, to take in just high it was. Damn… she thought. Sometimes I forget, but…damn! I'm strong like this!

Pausing to think that there was no way any normal human such as Asuka could have ever made that leap, the Ghost Rider then shook her head and returned to the business at hand. Rushing over to the dilapidated building, the burning demon soon searched out the staircase. Grimacing as she took in its condition, she very carefully placed her foot on it. There was a slighting crumbling sound, but it took her weight.

Still, I better take it slow. The last thing I need if for the whole damned building to go out from under me! the Ghost Rider thought as she started upwards. Hey, Big Z! You better keep those Section 2 assholes busy!

But of course, young Rider. Occupying such fools is nothing to one such as I, her demonic tenant informed her gloatingly. Even now, Chiron and his bunglers are chasing themselves all over the city, accomplishing nothing.

Good. Then keep them that way for a little while longer. At least until I find the perfect vantage point, the Ghost Rider retorted as she continued upwards. And hope like hell this dump doesn't fall apart before this is over!

As Rei's eyes opened, she instantly became aware that something was wrong.

Over the course of both her lives, the albino girl had known nothing but the kind of living space she now lived in. Her quarters at NERV and her current apartment were of the same type, and they met her basic needs. And this was the sort of place that Commander Ikari insisted was best for her. That kept her away from anything that might distract her from her true purpose. From the things she had been created for.

As such, Rei was well used to the kinds of things that went on in the old apartment building. The sounds of drug addicts getting high, of people fighting, even killing each other. She was used to these and many other noises, and none of them kept her from her sleep.

But now, something had roused the albino. Something was wrong. And while Rei could not see what that something was, she knew that it was there.

Rising from her bed, Rei exited her sleeping space. Mindless of the fact that she was completely bare, the blue-haired girl frowned as she surveyed her apartment. There was no sign of any intruders. There was none of the usual sounds she had grown accustomed to, though those had faded in frequency since the Ghost Rider had appeared. There was nothing obviously wrong in her room. And yet, she knew that something was wrong.

Growing more concerned, Rei continued to move forward. Until a sound caught her ears. It was faint, but she could still make it out. A sound that she knew quite well.

Gunfire. And it was coming from outside.

With this realization, Rei made her way to the window and peered through it. Though it was perpetually streaked with grime and filth, she could still see well enough to realize that there was in ordinate amount of activity in this portion of Tokyo-3. Something that was made even clearer as something that could only be a helicopter flew into sight, shining a spotlight down on the streets below.

Frowning, Rei considered the matter. It was obvious to her that, whatever was happening, it somehow involved Section 2, and was thus related to NERV. But at the same time, she wasn't sure what that might be, or what she should do about it.

I have not been ordered to base, or to evacuate, Rei knew, considering the situation as best as she could. Therefore, Section 2 must have whatever situation they're dealing with under control. Then her frown deepened, as she considered the unpredictability of battle. For now, at least.

For a moment, Rei considered going back to bed. But at the moment, she no longer felt sleepy. And as she watched another helicopter appear above the city, she decided that sleep would be ill-advised at the moment. She had seen things go wrong in battle in the past, and while she had no idea what was happening, the fact remained that there was a potentially dangerous situation unfolding nearby. And if something unforeseen occurred, it would be prudent for her to be ready for the worse.

And while Rei knew that she could be replaced, it remained true that she was in no hurry to die a second time. So with that thought, she quickly and efficiently moved to her closet and began dressing herself. In case action on her part was required to insure her survival.

"Ha! Finally!" the Ghost Rider grinned as she looked out over the city. Taking a moment to enjoy the view, as well as the advantage now afforded her.

It had taken longer than she would have liked, having to navigate the decrepit structure with such caution. And even then, she had wound up stepping through the floor and running into a collapsed stairwell here and there. But finally, she had made her way up to the 20th floor. And was presented with the perfect vantage point for her; an exposed walkway, similar to those found at the apartment where she lived. And from there she could see several streets, as well as several smaller buildings nearby. Perfect for her needs.

"Now, to keep myself out of sight until I'm ready for the big show…" the Ghost Rider purred as she surveyed the doors. Moving towards the nearest apartment, she directed a powerful kick to the door, shattering it effortlessly.

Quietly moving inside the abandoned lodging, the Ghost Rider grinned ruefully at her surroundings. Abandoned, condemned…and this Gott-forsaken place still looks better than Wondergirl's apartment, she couldn't help but think. Snorting as she returned her focus to the here and now, she then looked out through the window. Okay, Big Z! I'm in position!

Then the time has come at last, Zarathos growled eagerly. I shall begin luring our prey here immediately.

Great, you do that, the Ghost Rider answered as she crouched down. Making sure that she could see, but not be seen. Not until it was too late for Section 2 to escape her wrath.

"I don't believe this! Can't you incompetents do anything right?!" Chiron demanded as he continued his pursuit. Watching in dismay the absolute idiocy displayed by those under his command.

A few minutes after he had started after the Ghost Rider and her armored van, Chiron had caught up to it just in time to see the three surviving Echo units had arrived on the scene. He had grinned dangerously as he watched all three of them quickly fix her within their spotlights. Making her that much easier for the remaining teams to see, pursue, and in theory, capture when they arrived shortly afterwards. However, while they were doing fairly decently with the first two items, the horned slut was making them look like even bigger idiots than they already were when it came to number three.

Right now, there was a horde of Section 2 cars dogging the armored van to the best of their ability. A couple of them, armed with rocket launchers, unleashed a couple of their explosive projectiles at their quarry, while other agents continued to pepper it with machine gun fire in the hopes of taking out one of the van's burning tires. However, even this was useless. Whether it was because of miserable aim or the blazing wheels being impervious to bullets, it was still rolling unimpeded. And was much faster and more maneuverable than a vehicle that size had had any right to be. It effortlessly steered around both rockets, letting them fly past. Leaving several agents cursing as they blew holes in derelict buildings, rather than their target.

While Chiron was thinking evil thoughts about the pathetic aim displayed, the Ghost Rider was expressing her own opinion of Section 2's efforts. A turret fitted with guns and missiles appeared from the roof of her van, already taking aim at the cars. Bolts of flame erupted from their muzzles, directly squarely at its pursuers, causing the agents closest to the bombardment to veer away. And while one of the cars was hit, several holes melted in its side, they were able to avoid the worst of the attack, and even able to keep from crashing into each other.

This still didn't make Chiron happy. If anything, watching his underlings barely able to avoid certain death made him that much frustrated. "What's the matter with you people?! Can't you hit anything?!" he demanded as the Ghost Rider abandoned her assault. "Just get in close and concentrate your fire! Knock that thing on its side and get it over with!"

"We're trying, sir!" one of his people whined petulantly. "But every time we get it in our sights, she veers off!"

"And what you do you expect her to do?! Just sit around and paint a bull's-eye on her side for you convenience?!" Chiron demanded, thinking of what he would give to have some quality mercenaries under his command. "Just take her down! And remember! No unnecessary damage to that van! I want it taken with minimal damage! Is that clear?!"

"But how?!" another agent asked plaintively. "If we get too close to that thing, it'll blow us away! So what do we do?"

Well, one of you could always ram the damned bitch. And while she's busy blowing you to hell, the rest of you would be able to finish her off, Chiron thought furiously, sorely tempted to make that an order. Instead, he let out a disgusted growl and turned his attention elsewhere. "Teams 9 and 14! Report! Have you ditched that damned motorcycle yet?!"

"Not yet, sir!" came the response he had not wanted, yet had expected. "The damned thing's so fast, we can barely keep out of its sights!"

His ire deepening, Chiron listened to the thunderous in the background, and clamped down on the temptation to smash his mike on the dashboard. "Just get here already! Because if that thing doesn't manage to kill you, then you better believe that I will!" With that, Chiron flared his nostrils and focused on his prey. Watching as it continued to keep Section 2 at bay by means of superior maneuverability and firepower.

Dammit! We've got to find a way to corner that damned thing! Chiron knew, growling his frustration. If these idiots can just manage that, then -! Before the Section 2 head could complete his thought, the Ghost Rider came to an intersection. At last minute, she flung the van into a hairpin turn that left her rolling on the wrong side of the street and even the sidewalk, her tires eating the concrete and sending melted asphalt flying in every direction.

"Look out!" someone cried over the radio even as the sound of brakes squealing pierced the night, the Section 2 cars skidding as they attempted to follow. Fortunately, the agents in pursuit were far enough back so that they had an easier time of the turn. As a result, they were able to keep following, and even gain a precious bit of ground on their quarry.

Spinning his steering wheel furiously, Chiron matched his troops and the Ghost Rider. He took no pleasure in this, however; they were still no closer to their prey. No closer to avoiding the doom that awaited those who failed Commander Ikari. A doom he had seen with his own eyes.

As Chiron thought of this, thought of the people whom he himself had revealed to Ikari as traitors, and later seen their remains, he thought of this fate as becoming his own. And for the slightest instant, he shuddered fearfully, and pressed down on the accelerator that much harder. Almost missing it when one of the remaining helicopters contacted him. "Captain Chiron! This is Echo 6, sir!"

Hissing at this distraction, Chiron gritted, "What is it?!"

"We've just sighted the other teams, sir! As well as the Ghost Rider's bike!" Echo 6 reported. "They're a few miles southeast of our current position."

Chiron's first impulse was to tell the pilot to go to hell, to stop wasting his times with such trivial manners. But before he could say a thing, the tactical part of his mind kicked into overdrive. "Where are they, exactly?!" he demanded. "Is there any way to get to them from this street?!"

"I think so!" Echo 6 reported. There was a definite pause before they responded, one that very nearly stifled Chiron to death. "Yes, there is! If you turn left at the intersection of Ninth and Hishima, it'll take you almost right to them!"

Quickly taking this data, Chiron processed it to the best of his ability, and soon grinned triumphantly. "Alright then, people!" he ordered. "As soon as you get within range of the intersection of Ninth and Hishima, I want you to lay down fire to the right of the Ghost Rider! Force her to turn left on Hishima! Do you copy?!"

"Yes, sir!" came several voices in response.

Not wasting any times, Chiron turned his focus to the other aspect of his plan. "Teams 9 and 14, listen up and listen good! We're going to force the Ghost Rider onto Hishima road! Do you understand?" Chiron quickly received several affirmative noises. "Alright! When I give the word, I want Team 14 to distract that goddamned bike of hers! Do whatever you have to, but keep it busy while Team 9 intercepts the Ghost Rider and her van!"

"You want us to intercept her, sir?!" came an incredulous voice.

"That's right!" Chiron countered. "The instant you spot her, I want you to hit her with everything you've got! We'll catch her between the hammer and anvil, and knock the damned bitch flat on her ass! Is that understood?!"

"Yes, sir!" was the response he got this time. And for the first in what felt like forever, Chiron felt a smile curling his lips.

Less than a minute passed before Chiron's plan was set in motion. "Sir! We're coming into range of the intersection!" came another voice. "We're preparing to fire!"

"Then don't waste time talking to me!" Chiron told them. "Just do it already!"

"Yes, sir!" Even as far back as he was, the Section 2 head could still see and hear the many rockets as they were launched, the roar of thunder and plumes of fire unleashed as they slammed into the street and a couple more buildings. But even as one of the smaller, abandoned structures collapsed beneath its own weight, Chiron was grinning in triumph as he watched the Ghost Rider turn. In exactly the direction he wanted her to.

Yes! YES! Chiron gloated inwardly even as his troops turned to pursue. Requiring a moment to remember that it was a bit too soon to celebrate, he returned to the task at hand. "Teams 9 and 14! The Ghost Rider is heading right for you, so get ready!" he ordered, to which there was series of affirmative responses. "As for the rest of you, reload and be ready for action! You're going to get only chance to make this work, so don't you dare screw this up!"

Barely paying attention to his troops' affirmative response, Chiron kept pace with the rest of the Section 2 cars, turning onto Hishima and watching as the Ghost Rider drove obliviously towards her doom. He barely paid attention to the continued gunfire leveled at her, or the damage already done to the city. His focus was entirely on the streets ahead. Watching and waiting for his moment of triumph.

Finally, after what felt like forever, about a dozen headlights appeared in the gloom of the night, spreading across the street and allowing no passage. A heartbeat later, the Ghost Rider swung her van about, its brakes shrieking in protest, very nearly flipping over as she ground to a halt.

This was more than Chiron could have ever hoped for. The Ghost Rider was perfectly still. A sitting target for his agents. "This is it, men!" he cried out, practically tasting his triumph even as he spoke. "Everyone, open -!"

A massive explosion and a burst of flame cut Chiron off. Angered, the Captain looked about for the source, and was about to demand to know who had fired without his direct authorization. Until he looked up…and saw the shattered remains of another of his helicopters come tumbling down. Crashing down upon one of the derelict buildings, crushing it and igniting the remains.

"What the hell -?!" one of his men started even as Chiron looked about wildly. The van hadn't opened fire, the motorcycle wasn't within view. So where had the rocket come from?

It wasn't long before Chiron saw the answer to his question. Standing high above him, on the walkway of one of the abandoned apartment buildings, was a human figure whose head was wreathed in flame. And before he could say anything, could condone her presence up there as being impossible, the Ghost Rider fired two more rockets, and sent the remaining helicopters plummeting to their doom.

"Hey! Welcome to the party, assholes!" the Ghost Rider cackled, her voice audible despite the distance and the sounds of destruction. "Feel free to enjoy it…for as long as you can!"

As Chiron looked up at the Ghost Rider, he realized that he made a grievous error. That he assumed that it was only the motorcycle that was being remote piloted. That heand Section 2 had been the ones that had been herded there, not the other way around.

And as the Ghost Rider launched another rocket down towards them, sending half a dozen cars and their occupants up in flames, they were only beginning to pay the price.

"Ha ha!" the Ghost Rider shrieked in delight. Shedding her expended rocket launcher with the intent of reclaiming it later, she then brought forth her Gatling repulsor. "Aw, damn! That couldn't have worked better even if I'd planned it!"

Which we did, young Rider, Zarathos pointed out. However, I suggest you move quickly. We don't want our prey to escape, now do we?

"Ha! Like that'll happen!" the Ghost Rider grinned, looking down on the remaining Section 2 goons, most of them in disarray and stalled still as a result of her last rocket. Now they were struggling to move, to turn about and escape the way they had came. Deciding that that simply wouldn't do, the Ghost Rider took aim at the various vehicles, and depressed the firing stud on her mammoth weapon. The Gatling repulsor spun to life, unleashing a barrage of hellfire upon them. Within seconds, several more Section 2 cars were up in flames, blocking off the few that remained from escaping.

"Heh heh…I'm not letting you get away that easily! Not after everything I had to do to get you here!" the Ghost Rider chortled menacingly. Looking over the side of the rail, she watched as the remaining agents actually did something smart. Realizing that there was no escape by car, they began spilling out of their vehicles, running desperately for the nearest available shelter.

"Smart," the Ghost Rider commented, placing one foot on the railing. "But not nearly smart enough!" Repositioning her Gatling repulsor so that it was securely holstered about her back, the demonic biker slipped over the railing, and leapt into the night air.

Grinning wildly as she fell freely, completely unafraid of what might happen next, the Ghost Rider watched the ground grow closer. She then launched a stream of hellfire from her wrist at the apartment building, watched it resolve into a solid chain, and felt her uncontrolled fall change into a graceful swing that put her right in front of several of the fleeing agents. Taking hold of one of her machine guns with her free hand, she watched and laughed as the agents that had been running right towards her almost fell over in shock.

The fleeing Section 2 men had just enough time to dig their feet in, to wave their arms wildly in a desperate attempt to keep their balance, to cry out as they looked their doom in the eyes. Just before the Ghost Rider pulled the trigger, and sent them all tumbling down to the depths of hell. "That's right, assholes!" the demonic superwoman smirked as she banished the chain, coming down to the ground on her feet. "There's no escaping the Ghost Rider!"

Racing out into the street, the Ghost Rider grabbed her other machine gun. Utilizing all the skill she had cultivated as an Eva pilot, as well as those garnered by Zarathos over the centuries, she rushed forward with both guns blazing. Her burning eyes swiveling about, catching sight of every tainted aura that came within view. And everywhere she saw one of her enemies, she sent a spray of hellfire in his direction, banishing him to the depths with a cry of pain and a explosion of ash.

"There! That takes care of most of them!" the Ghost Rider grinned cruelly.

But not all of them, Zarathos noted. Some of them are already far away from here, and few have taken refuge in those buildings.

Yeah, yeah, I know! And there's still a bunch of leftovers in the direction! the Ghost Rider muttered dismissively. Sparing a glance in the direction of the firefight that was still going on between the Section 2 creeps and the Ghostcycle. Don't worry, I'll get to them soon enough!

There was a moment of silence before Zarathos spoke again. I could, of course, dispense with them myself. With both the Ghostcycle and the Battle Skull, I could easily…

Nah, don't bother Big Z! This won't take much longer, the Ghost Rider returned as she dashed up to the building that was her foes' hiding place. Taking hold of one of her grenades, she also drew forth her chainsaw-sword and ignited it. Besides, I'm having too much fun to let it end this quickly! Laughing inwardly, she raised her sword overhead, the blade stretching longer and longer before she swung it downwards. The horrid weapon split her prey's sanctuary in two, the chains it sent out ensnaring several of them, extinguishing their wicked lives. But the strike didn't catch all of them; there were still several agents lingering at the back of the shattered building, undoubtedly trying to make their escape.

The Ghost Rider just grinned as she held up the grenade, the flames of hell having transformed it into a ghoulish, grinning metal skull. "Have a blast, boys!" she chortled before throwing it into the middle of the shattered evidence. The demonically enhanced grenade bouncing once, twice, before exploding with savage force. Sending both the building and its few remaining occupants up in flames. Cries of agony mixing with the sound of collapsing rubble, leaving nothing but death and destruction before her.

"There! That takes care of them!" the Ghost Rider grinned, brushing her hands together in the manner of a job well done. "And now we go take care of the rest of them!"

You haven't gotten them all, young Rider, Zarathos pointed out. You still have to track down the few that escaped, and…

Relax, Big Z! I know what I'm doing here! the Ghost Rider returned, rolling her eyes as she started away from the torched building. I'll get to them after we take care of the others! Letting out a derisive snort, she added, Besides, it's not like we have to nail all these creeps! Just enough to convince Commander Creep that Section 2 isn't enough to keep Wondergirl from being blown to bits out here!

And to thin the number of Ikari's protectors, Zarathos reminded her pointedly.

Yeah, that, too. Shaking her head at the demon's critique of her methods, the Ghost Rider started towards the Battle Skull. Now, c'mon! Lighten up! We still need to burn those other creeps! It's time for the final phase of my brilliant master plan!

With this in mind, the Ghost Rider clambered aboard the Battle Skull and quickly surveyed the situation ahead. Sure enough, several of the Section 2 cars had retreated from sight, and a few had been destroyed by the Ghostcycle's diversionary attack. But there were still plenty remaining, more than enough to amuse herself with.

That's right. I'll polish off those dummkopfs, then I'll deal with whatever scraps are left, the Ghost Rider

grinned as she floored the accelerator. Nothing can go wrong now!

Rei didn't like the situation that was unfolding before her. She didn't like it at all.

Since she had quickly gotten dressed, the albino had stood in silence, watching the battle that was unfolding just a block away from her apartment. And while she couldn't see what was happening very well, she knew that Section 2 was far from being in control of the situation. In fact, it was more like what she had heard some people refer to as a death spiral.

For the past several minutes, Section 2 had been fighting a losing war against a strange, fiery projectile that Rei couldn't make out. At times, it roared across the ground, while at others, it flew through the air. All the while is bombarded NERV's secret police with bolts of flame, amongst other things. And though the 1st Child was unsure what the aerial antagonist was, she did know what it was doing. Keeping Section 2 too busy just trying to stay alive for them to go anyplace else.

And while Rei had no idea what was going on in the distance, the sight of three helicopters being blown out of the sky, as well as the other explosions she bore witness to, did nothing to inspire any confidence in Section 2's ability to resolve this conflict. And without Unit 00 or any other form of protection, Rei knew that she only one course of action. She had to get some distance from this conflict, and as quickly as possible.

Reviewing her knowledge of her surroundings, Rei began planning the optimal course of escape. One that would keep her more-or-less concealed from the ongoing battle, while minimizing her risk as she made her past the more dangerous parts of the neighborhood as she made her way to the Geofront.

Before Rei was even halfway to the door, she paused and looked back towards the small stand near the window. At the few school books that she kept there…as well as her most prized possession. Suffering a momentary pang, the 1st Child realized that she couldn't risk anything happening to that special treasure of hers. So as quickly as she could, she went back to the stand, and retrieved the broken glasses Commander Ikari had given her after he had burned his hands in order to save her. Sparing a moment to look in their case and confirm that they were safe, she closed it back up and stuffed them back in her pocket.

Looking back outside, Rei frowned as she took one last glance at the battlefield before her. I better hurry, she thought, watching the spreading fires and devastation that were consuming building after building. There might not be much time left to get away from here. And with that, she quickly exited her apartment.

The first thing the Ghost Rider did before reentering the fray was to exercise a bit of caution.

While everything had been going her way so far, she had learned the hard way that things might not continue to do so. And even though Zarathos had guided the remaining cluster of Section 2 goons so that they were a block distant from Rei's apartment, she still wasn't going to take the chance of something going haywire after all her hard work and effort.

So as she drove the Battle Skull into action, she spared a moment to survey the surrounding area, including Rei's apartment building. Sure enough, not only could she still see the pure white aura of Rei's innocent soul within, rather than out wandering the streets, but the Section 2 creeps were right where she wanted them. Close enough so that their incompetence made them a viable threat to the 1st Child's safety, but far enough so that it was extremely unlikely that she would in any actual danger.

Good! Everything's working perfectly! the Ghost Rider grinned wickedly, already envisioning the end result of the disaster she was crafting. A few more Section 2 rockets, a few more shattered buildings, and then she would finish them off, and maybe track down a few of the scraps that had momentarily escaped before calling it a night. By the time I'm done, the Bastard in Chief will have no choice but to move his personal slave someplace better!

With this thought in mind, the Ghost Rider closed the few blocks left between herself and her victims, laughing as she armed every weapon Mana had built into the monstrous van. Repulsor cannons emerged from the grill and Gatling blasters appeared from the side. Quickly checking the status of the already-armed turret blasters and missiles, the horned rider then turned her burning eyes to her victims. Not even bothering to lock onto to her targets, she depressed the firing studs in the wheels, and unleashed streams of hellfire-augmented destruction at her foes.

While a couple of the blasts passed by their targets, blowing apart a couple of the derelict buildings in the process, others found their marks. Filling the night with towering explosions and cries of panic as the Section 2 goons realized that they now had more trouble to deal with.

"That's right! Here I come!" the Ghost Rider grinned as she steered towards one of the Section 2 cars. Not even bothering to open fire, she slammed into it head-on, smashing it up into the air. Delighting in the agonized screams that was the final act of the agents inside of it. Then she sighted another car trying desperately to get away, and she subjected it to similar treatment.

While the horned girl was seeking out further victims, the Ghostcycle increased its harassment. Launching a pair of splicer missiles, it blew away a few more cars. Furthering the field of destruction, and filling the area with fire. And once again, the Section 2 personnel were forced to abandon their vehicles in order to have any hope of escape.

As the Ghost Rider continued her reign of terror, sending waves of hellfire in every direction, she looked at the hopeless expressions of her foes. Looked at them and delighted in faces that betrayed the fact that each and every one of them knew they were doomed.

But while the agents knew they were as good as dead, that didn't mean that they intended to go quietly into the night. Instead, each of them that were still armed raised whatever weapons they still had and opened fire at the Battle Skull. And thus Section 2 continued their part of the macabre dance of destruction.

Well, well. Not bad, the Ghost Rider thought grudgingly even as she kept driving. The bullets couldn't harm her, and the rockets weren't made for precision shooting, and so they kept slamming into the buildings, setting them on fire. But the agents continued to fight back, expending every last bit of ammo they had in their attempt to survive. I've got to give them credit for guts, if not brains. Her bony mouth curling into a smile, she added, Not that that means I'm gonna let 'em off the hook!

I would certainly hope not, young Rider, Zarathos muttered reprovingly. In fact, don't you think it is time you ended this farce? There are still many agents to be tracked down, and your absence at home may be noticed if you don't return soon.

Growling in her throat at Zarathos' killjoy attitude, the blazing rider rolled her eyes. Okay, okay! she grumbled inwardly. Though she was loathe to admit it, the demon had a point, and the longer the battle went on, the greater the chance of a stray shot going where it shouldn't go. I guess we've done enough damage for one night. Noting the spreading flames and collapsed buildings, contributed to by both sides in this battle, the Ghost Rider sighed as her fun came to an end. Tell you what, Big Z; why don't you finish them all off? Put them out of their misery?

It would be my pleasure, Zarathos cackled malevolently. Even as his cruel laughter filled the Ghost Rider's mind, every weapon the Ghostcycle and Battle Skull possessed roared to life, spraying fiery blasts and missiles in every direction. In an instant, the impromptu battlefield was transformed into a rage inferno, concrete turning molten even as it exploded from the barrage. And what agents weren't killed by the initial bombardment were quickly incinerated, some of them dying as their cars collapsed and melted with them still inside.

Letting out a low whistle of appreciation at the carnage, the Ghost Rider couldn't help but think, Damn…he may piss me off at times, but am I'm sure glad Zarathos is on my side! Watching in fascination as the few remnants of her foes disappear in the blaze, the demonic rider shook her head before getting back to business. Well, that just about takes care of that. How about calling in my bike so we can exterminate a few more before packing it in?

Gladly, Zarathos oozed even as the Ghostcycle turned and started towards them. Completely unscathed by its own handiwork. And the Battle Skull?

Eh, send it back to the garage. It's not like we'll need it just to take out a few little jerks, right? the Ghost Rider decided as she exited the armored van. Stepping down on partially melted asphalt, she took a few steps even as she surveyed her handiwork.

Whew…we sure did a job on this place, the Ghost Rider thought appreciatively. Many of the abandoned buildings burning out of control, their structures creaking ominously as they weakened and slowly collapsed. As she watched the roof cave in on one of them, the horned biker stiffened before turning about.

What is it? Zarathos wondered even as she settled down.

Nothing, Big Z. Just making sure that Wondergirl's place is still standing, the Ghost Rider returned quickly. Sure enough, the battle had not touched Rei's apartment building. And more importantly, she could see the brilliant light of her innocent soul moving through the decrepit edifice, heading down towards ground level. Well, well. It looks she's decided that dump isn't 'sufficient for her needs' anymore!

Then it would seem that your mission has been accomplished, Zarathos oozed. And now, shall we…?

Grunting at her demonic tenant's decided lack of subtlety, the Ghost Rider soon answered, Yeah, I guess so. She should be okay. At least until the fire department decides to show up. Going up to the Ghostcycle, she sat astride the monster bike and revved its engine. Only to pause once more when an ominous creaking filled the air. Causing her to look up at the nearby buildings, and frown in concern.

Young Rider? Zarathos growled with mounting impatience. But the Ghost Rider continued to watch the buildings. The noises coming from the growing in intensity and frequency.

Then, before her eyes, one of the huge buildings gave in to the inevitable. Weakened by the fire, neglect, potentially a missile hit or two, as well as whatever damage it taken from both earthquakes and the previous Angel battles, the abandoned building listed to its side…and crashed into the one next to it. This, in turn, signaled the impacted building's doom, and it also collapsed against its neighbor, like a row of dominoes collapsing, one after another.

Her jaw falling open, the Ghost Rider looked on in horror as she slowly realized what was about to happen. "Aw, schisse, no, no, no, nooo!" she cried out in protest as the domino effect proceeded, and finally resulted in one of the burning structures collapsing against the decrepit building where Rei lived. Wincing at the sight of the impact, the fiery biker froze, already seeing in her mind the massive monstrosity crashing down beneath this crushing blow. Crumbling into a burning pile of rubble, and extinguishing the precious light of innocence that was held within.

To her astonishment, this didn't happen. The broken building listed to its side somewhat as a result of the impact, and she could already see chunks of it falling away. But apparently, the filthy, dilapidated apartment building had just a bit more strength to it than the Ghost Rider would have believed, and still remained standing.

Whew! Thank Gott for small favors! the German demon sighed inwardly, almost collapsing with relief. But then a groan of protest from the apartment's supports returned her attention to the present, and made it clear that this was not over. Something that became even clearer when the fire that had already ravaged the one building was beginning to eat away at the albino's home.

To make matters worse, the pure light of Rei's soul was visible within the stricken apartment building. And it was no longer moving.

Aw, dammit! the Ghost Rider hissed inwardly. Zarathos, do we have anything that can put out that fire?!

You know that we don't! You demanded Mana increase the combat capabilities of your vehicles, not to equip them for situations like this!Zarathos growled in response. And even that won't stop the collapse! Nothing can at this point!

Gritting her teeth fiercely, the Ghost Rider studied the doomed building before pounding her first on her bike. Cursing the people who had designed and built that wretched place, the government for not razing it a long time ago, the Section 2 assholes for causing more damage than she had allotted for. For Commander Ikari for ever putting Rei in this half-dead neighborhood with all its human vermin to begin with. And even Rei for ever tolerating such an abysmal hovel, and Zarathos for not seeing something like this coming.

For doing all of these distracted her from cursing the one person she wanted to curse above all.

Then the Ghost Rider recovered, and gritted dangerously. This was not a time for cursing, or even thinking. This was a time for action. And that was something that she was very good at. So without hesitation, she swung her monstrous mechanical steed about, revved the engine, and shot towards the deteriorating building.

Young Rider, Zarathos protested instantly. Asuka, what do you think you're doing?

You're a smart demon, Zarathos! the Ghost Rider retorted gruffly. You figure it out!

It didn't take long for the demon within to do so, and when he did, he protested even more vigorously. This isn't a good idea. Even my power may not be sufficient to protect you if the building collapses with us in it!

Then we better make damn sure we're out of there before that happens, Big Z, because like it or not, I'm going in! the Ghost Rider retorted even as she switched to flight mode. Jets boosted the Ghostcycle upward, allowing its wheels to fold over and their built-in respulsor-based generators to propel the demonic machine up into the sky.

Focusing on the brilliant light of purity, the Ghost Rider thrusted towards her destination, not even pausing as she slammed into the wall. The crumbling concrete and plaster shattered instantly, and the rusted steel beams melted the instant they came in contact with the mechanical steed. Soon, the Ghost Rider was within the doomed structure, narrowing her eyes as she tried to see through air that was already filling up with dust and smoke.

As she looked about the interior, trying to catch sight of the precious light of innocence, the Ghost Rider quickly realized that she didn't have much time. The walls were cracked and falling apart before her eyes, and the groaning she had heard the supports making outside was ten times as intense within there.

Dammit! Gotta move! the Ghost Rider realized, pushing her steed forward. Swinging her inhuman gaze this was and that, searching for any sign of Rei. C'mon, Wondergirl! Light up that light of yours! Show me where you are!

Young Rider, there is no time for this! Zarathos hissed warningly. We must leave quickly, or -!

Zip it, Zarathos! the Ghost Rider growled warningly as she continued to look about. A bit more searching finally revealed that which she was looking for; a pure, beautiful light somewhere down and to the left of her position.

No time for subtlety! the Ghost Rider growled inwardly, arming the Gatling blasters on her bike. Swiveling her mechanical steed into position, she blasted a hole in the floor, the flames of Hell eating through the decrepit surface easily. With a throaty roar of her engine, she plunged into the hole, her eyes locked on the innocent soul she was intent on rescuing.

As it happened, Rei wasn't on the level she had just arrived on. So the Ghost Rider simply blasted out another floor, and went down again. And she kept doing it, until at last she looked towards the light that was her guide…and gasped when she saw a pale figure crushed beneath a pile of rubble.

"Oh, Gott, no!" the Ghost Rider gasped, freezing up in horror. Moments passed in which she studied the downed figure, until at last she recovered enough to guide the Ghostcycle up to her side. Effortlessly dismounting, she took Rei's slender wrist in her hand. Before long, she found a steady pulse.

Whew! It's about time Wondergirl had some good luck come her way! the Ghost Rider thought, as relieved as she could ever remember being. Without wasting any movement, she grabbed hold of a chunk of rubble and tossed it aside.

Young Rider, there isn't much time! Zarathos urged her. His words echoed by the continued deterioration of the building's integrity. We have to escape as quickly as possible!

Then you better damn well help me out here, Big Z! the Ghost Rider returned gruffly, not pausing in her efforts. Because I am not leaving without her! You got that?! If Zarathos had anything to say to this, he decided to keep it to himself. Which was just fine with the blazing motorcyclist, who continued to toss aside the chunks of rotten drywall, doing her best to tune out the growing intensity of the groans of metal and the snapping of wood.

It was none too soon that the Ghost Rider threw away the last remaining fragment of debris. Moving carefully, wary of any potential injuries Rei might have, she scooped the albino into her arms. Okay, Zarathos. Now we can get out of here!

And none too soon, the demon grumbled in response, edging the Ghostcycle closer. Wincing as the sounds of collapse worsened, the Ghost Rider couldn't help but agree as she got to her feet.

"Hold on tight!" the Ghost Rider told the insensate girl as she prepared to mount her monstrous steed. "Because we're outta he-eeerrre!"

As it turned out, what the two girls had run out of was time. A massive roar filled the building, followed soon after by a trembling that it shook them through and through. Before the Ghost Rider had a chance to process what was happening, the world seemed to teeter on edge, just before the building continued the fall it had already begun. Sending both the horned superwoman and her helpless charge sliding down the floor towards their doom.

Her mind emptied with shock, the Ghost Rider looked down towards the end of the hall. The walls around her crumbling to pieces before her very eyes, the resulting cracks spreading everywhere as the building succumbed to the inevitable. Asuka! Zarathos cried out even as the Ghostcyle revved its engine once more. Fire a chain at the Ghostcycle!

Squawking in surprise, the Ghost Rider looked up at her approaching bike. She almost asked what Zarathos had in mind, but then realized that there wasn't time for anything of that nature. So instead, she did as she was told…just as the Ghostcycle fired a set of splicer missiles that missed her by a foot at the most. The newly formed chain wrapped about the bike just as the missiles impacted, blasting out the far end of the hallway.

As plumes of dust and smoke filled the air, almost completely blotting out the world around her, the Ghost Rider heard her monstrous bike roar past her. Soon afterwards, she felt the chain that still connected her to it become taught, and cried out in surprise when she was yanked down even faster. Even as she was trying to make sense of Zarathos's actions, she felt the floor disappear from beneath her, leaving her swinging about in empty air.

"Schisse!" the Ghost Rider cried out. Tightening her grip on Rei, she swung about from the Ghostcycle as the doomed apartment building collapsed into a rain of plummeting debris. The two girls already safely away from the devastation.

Looking over her shoulder as Rei's former home collapsed into a mountain of unsalvageable debris, the fiery motorcyclist let out a low sigh, only now realizing just how close their escape had been. Damn… she thought, shaking her head in amazement. Nice going, Big Z. A few seconds more, and we'd have been a permanent part of that mess!

Which is precisely why I warned you against going in there to begin with, Zarathos chided her. You are brave, young Rider, but you still have much to learn.

Suddenly annoyed with her demonic tenant's criticisms, the Ghost Rider shot back, Hey, what's the matter with you anyway, Zarathos?! I thought protecting the innocent was what I was supposed to do! And Wondergirl is about as innocent as you can get!

That is true. The innocent are deserving of such protection, and that is part of your – our duties, Zarathos growled unpleasantly. But while your intentions were noble tonight, young Rider, good intentions are not enough. They never are. The demon then let out a low chuckle even as he carefully guided them back down to the ground. As it is said, they are the things that the road to Hell is paved with.

Look, spare me the lecture already, okay?! I am so not in the mood for it, the Ghost Rider gritted irritably. Turning about, she looked towards the shattered nightmare that had once been Rei's home. The fires that had already been gnawing at it spurred on to even greater heights by the dust and destruction. Expanding the wildfire that was already consuming so much of the abandoned portion of the city. And taking with it everything that Rei had ever had. Every possession that marked it as her own.

If it weren't for the fact that it was impossible, the Ghost Rider would have sworn that she was suffering from food poisoning. There was no other way to explain the intense nausea that was twisting her burning insides, the intensity she felt it gnawing at her.

No other way…save for guilt.

I…I did this, the Ghost Rider knew, all the joy and delight she had taken from that night burnt away in the blazes she had helped set. That she had very nearly killed an innocent, and that she had destroyed everything that innocent possessed. Leaving Rei with absolutely nothing but the clothes on her back…and with no reassurance that NERV would pick up the slack and take care of her needs for her.

Heaving a raspy sigh, the Ghost Rider shook her head, trying very hard to not think of such things. C'mon, Big Z, she finally thought, watching as the Ghostcycle landed next to her. It's all over, anyway. Let's get the hell out of here.

Very well, Zarathos growled, no satisfaction in his voice, either.

As the sound of the phone ringing slowly penetrated her consciousness, robbing of her of the sleep she so richly deserved, Misato decided that the telephone was quite possibly one of the most overrated inventions of all time.

Shifting about beneath her blankets, the Major repositioned her pillow in a desperate attempt to drown out the dratted noise that was keeping her from her slumber. Naturally enough, that didn't work. It never really did. Leaving Misato to squirm about even more, wondering when whatever asshole that was wasting his or her time would finally give up and leave her be.

Finally, after what felt like forever, the hated ringing was cut off. And in its place was a tiny, tender voice. "Hello?" Shinji murmured in a bedraggled manner. A moment or so passed, time in which Misato could make out her ward muttering beneath his breath. Until at last she heard footsteps approaching and the door to her bedroom sliding open. "Um…Misato…?"

Unable to restrain the groan that had been building up in her, the Major muttered, "What is it…Shinji…?"

"Uh…I've got someone from NERV on the line. A…Lieutenant Kamiya…" Shinji explained slowly. "He says he needs to talk to you. Something about…an accident?"

Groaning even more, Misato realized that there would be no escaping back to slumberland now. Part of her duties as Operations Director meant that she was on call on a 24/7 basis, and if she was needed back at the base, there was nothing she could do about it. Not if she wanted to keep her job.

Forcing herself upright, Misato stared blearily into the darkness. Trying to convince her body that, yes, it did have to get up at whatever god-awful hour this was and get moving, and having less success with that than she was happy with. "I'm coming, Shinji-kun…" she garbled out,

Finally, after what felt like forever, the nervous connections between her brain and her legs finally revved up enough to allow for clear communication, allowing her to slowly drag herself to her feet. Feeling like a wreck and certain that she looked it, too, Misato left her room and made her way to the kitchen. Shinji was standing there, somehow managing to look neat and tidy, despite the fact that he had probably been as rudely awakened as the Major was.

Assuming he's slept at all, Misato thought sourly, knowing how sensitive the younger Ikari was. "Thanks, Shinji-kun," she spoke aloud. Taking the phone in hand, she tried to force a more military manner into place. "Major Katsuragi here. What is it?"

"Major, we have a serious problem here," Kamiya informed. While Misato was fighting the temptation to say something along the lines of 'No shit!' or something equally brilliant, the lieutenant continued. "The 1st Child has just been admitted to NERV Medical."

As soon as these words found their way into Misato's brain, they bounced around in there long enough to completely empty it. Leaving the Major standing there slack-jawed, until at last her mind kicked into overdrive, leaving her lethargy completely forgotten. "What?!" she shrilled, causing Shinji to jump back a step. "Is Rei alright?! What happened?!"

"She's fine, Major. She took a hit to the head, as well as some bumps and bruises, but other than, she seems to be fine," Kamiya explained. "As for how it happened…"

"Yes?" Misato prompted impatiently. Torn between demanding further information and the distraught look that had appeared on Shinji's face at Rei's mention.

"I…I don't have complete information right now, Major. But I can tell you that her apartment was torched, along with half the old Hakone district," Kamiya told her. Her eyes bulging at this revelation, Misato was about to demand further explanation when the lieutenant cut her off. "The Commander has ordered that you and the other Children report in immediately."

"The Commander? He's at the base?" Misato demanded, liking this less and less. For a moment, she considered pressuring the lieutenant for further information, but ultimately decided against it. If Gendo was there and in command, then this was already a lot more serious than she liked. "Alright," she sighed after a moment. "We'll be there as soon as we can."

Not waiting for Kamiya to say anything further, Misato hung up the phone, and was immediately confronted with the 3rd Child's worried countenance. "Misato…what's going on?" Shinji wondered worriedly. "Did something happen to Rei?"

Frowning, Misato quickly and tersely repeated what Kamiya had told her. "She's a bit banged up, but apparently, its nothing serious. But we won't know what's really going on until we get to NERV," she told Shinji. Giving him a moment to process everything she had said, Misato sighed and brushed back her rumpled hair. "Look, you better get dressed. I'll get Asuka and then…" Heaving a weary sigh that spoke volumes, she watched as Shinji nodded politely before retreating to his room.

Bringing her hand to her forehead in order to massage the throbbing headache she was already developing, Misato started towards Asuka's room. Taking a moment to frown at the lock the German had insisted on installing there, she then gave the door a sharp rapping with her knuckles. "Asuka?" the purple-haired woman called, not caring how grouchy she may or may not have sounded. After waiting a few seconds and getting nothing but silence, she knocked with much greater force. "Asuka, get up! I need to talk to you!" Once again, there was no response, and Misato's fuse, already shortened by too little sleep that night, quickly burnt down. "Asuka Langley-Sohryu, you have ten seconds to -!"

"Yeah, yeah! I heard you already!" came Asuka's grumpy voice. A few seconds later, the disheveled redhead unlocked her door and poked her head out to face her. "What is it, Misato? And why can't it wait until its light out?!"

Frowning at the typically tactless response, Misato decided to forget it and her suspicions for the time. "Get dressed, Asuka. We have to report to Headquarters," she explained tersely. When the redhead's eyes went wide with indignation, the Major quickly explained what had happened. "The Commander wants us in there yesterday."

Asuka opened her mouth to say something. But before she could speak a word, her expression paled somewhat. "The…Commander?" she repeated, something that might almost have been called fear. "He…wants to see us?"

"I don't know. All I know is that we have our orders," Misato told her candidly. "Now, hurry up and get dressed. I'm not in the mood to have the Commander chew my ass off."

Not bothering to wait and see if Asuka would heed her words, Misato turned and made her way towards her room. Already filing the German's wariness away for future reference.

I can't believe this is happening, Asuka moaned inwardly. Fighting with everything she had to keep the flames of Hell from rising up and transforming her. Fighting against the final, pained screams of the innocent that now surrounded her. If I'd known this was what helping Wondergirl would get me, I'd have let her rot in that stupid dump!

About half an hour had passed since Asuka had managed to slip back into her apartment unseen, and roughly twenty minutes since Misato had come knocking on her door. Twenty minutes in which she had hurriedly gotten dressed before she, Shinji, and the Major had driven down into the Geofront. And after a quick stop at NERV Medical to check in on the still-unconscious Rei, they had begun navigating the maze of hallways that was NERV. A maze that was soon darkened and overwhelmed by the images of the dead, the innocent. The impossible victims of Gendo Ikari.

It can't be real… Asuka moaned as she continued to witness horror after horror flashing before her eyes. There's just no way…there's just too many…!

Haven't we had this discussion before, young Rider? Zarathos chimed in irritably. Now, maintain your focus! It is difficult enough for me to restrain my power within this sea of evil. We cannot afford any missteps.

Hmph! Try telling me something I don't already know, Zarathos! Asuka snorted. Suppressing the urge to shudder at the faces of the dead that were beckoning to her. Crying out for peace. For justice. For vengeance.

Doing her best to stay close to Shinji while not looking like she was trying to stay close to him, his own light of innocence easing her struggles, Asuka continued to follow him and Misato through the miasma of cruelty that obscured the halls of NERV. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Shinji came to an unexpected halt. Asuka, already edgy and distracted from the faces of the doomed that surrounded her, didn't notice until she walked right into him. Wincing at this, her frustration and confusion quickly turned to anger, anger she then vented on the most convenient target. "Hey, watch where you're going, baka!"

Turning about, Shinji sighed as he met Asuka's gaze. "Sorry," was all he said before turning away from her again.

Sorely tempted to demand more than just an apology, Asuka scowled and German swallowed her aggravation. Barely paying attention to anything happening around her, to Misato exchanging a few brief words with the Commander's secretary, she watched as the doors to Gendo's lair opened up. "Come on, you two," Misato muttered wearily. Looking past Shinji's innocence, the redhead watched as the Major very nearly disappeared in cloud of pain and despair.

Realizing that she was expected to follow, but not wanting to be separated from the light of innocence that eased her struggles, Asuka gave Shinji a gentle shove in the right direction. "Well, c'mon, Third!" she told him, following closely and ready to give him another shove. "Get moving!"

Shinji didn't say anything, didn't anything to protest this treatment. He simply moved forward into a place that was darker and more terrible than anything Asuka could have ever imagined. Just beyond the wisps of pain and death that surrounded them were bizarre equations inscribed in the walls, floor, and ceiling. Things that the German couldn't even begin to make sense of. What the hell is all this?!

Intriguing, Zarathos oozed as they walked over one of the equations. It would seem that Gendo Ikari is quite a scholar in the ways of the soul.

The soul? Asuka demanded quickly, before she gasped in realization. Wait a sec! Are you saying you know what all this crap means?!

Not precisely, Zarathos replied. But I do understand some of it. In fact…

Before Zarathos could elaborate, another voice broke in, and very nearly cost Asuka her secret. "Major Katsuragi. Pilot Sohryu," came the cold, cruel voice of Gendo Ikari. "How good of you to join us."

"Yes, sir," Misato returned. The purple-haired woman darted a glance at the unmentioned Child present before returning her gaze towards where Gendo sat, with Sub Commander Fuyutsuki standing next to him. "I…heard about Rei. I'm sorry, sir."

"Your apologies are unnecessary, Major," Gendo told her pointedly. "Rei is still alive, and will recover. That is all that is important." Leaning in closer, the Commander steepled his fingers as he studied the three of them, the light reflecting off his glasses giving him a cruel, supernatural appearance. "However, as I'm certain you are aware, we have more…immediate concerns to deal with."

"What I'm aware of, sir, is that there's still a great deal I don't know about what's going on," Misato told the Commander pointedly. "I was told that Rei's apartment was destroyed in a fire, sir. But what does that have to do with myself or the other children?"

"A great deal, Major Katsuragi," Fuyutsuki told her pointedly. While Asuka was wondering how anyone could spend so much time with Gendo and not winding up suffocating from all his evil, the old professor continued his explanation. "For you see, the fire was deliberately set. By that creature known as the Ghost Rider."

There was silence for a time, silence in which Asuka tried to keep her expression clear of any emotion she might have felt as a result of hearing mention of her other self. "The…the Ghost Rider, sir?" Misato repeated, sounding almost astonished by this declaration. "Are you certain?"

"Quite certain, Major," Gendo returned. "Ever since her aborted attack on NERV, Section 2 has been on high alert for any sign of her. She was sighted in the area of the 1st Child's apartment, and so they attempted to intercept her." The Commander paused, the tiniest of frowns marking his face. "However, she had already set fire to the building. Captain Chiron and his forces attempted to intervene on her behalf…and suffered heavy casualties as a result."

Her eyes going wide at this, Asuka was barely able to restrain the sudden explosion of anger the Commander's words triggered. Arrgh! You miserable, lying bastard! she shrilled inwardly. I guess I should have figured you pin all the blame on me! Almost losing control of her temper once more, the German was soon forced to settle for giving Gendo an evil glare. I swear, one of these days, I'm gonna make you burn for this one!

And dare I hope that that day will be coming soon, young Rider? Zarathos wondered in an almost mocking fashion.

Suppressing the urge to tell her demonic tenant to stuff his lips where the sun didn't shine, Asuka focused on more immediate matters. "So, uh…what happens to Wondergirl now, sir?" she asked. When Gendo and Fuyutsuki both looked her way, frowns of confusion marking their features, the redhead groaned in her throat. "Rei? What's going to happen to her?! You just said that she lost her home, and I'm guessing that all her clothes and what-not went up as well! So…!

Trailing off, Asuka continued to stand there, looking between the two Commanders. "She will, of course, be relocated to a new apartment. And be compensated for her losses," Gendo told her dismissively. His tone making it clear just how unimportant Rei's loss was to him. "However, that is not our foremost concern." Focusing his gaze on Misato, the Commander looked at her with those glowing disks of cold light. "This creature has already made two attacks on NERV personnel, Major Katsuragi. She has severely weakened Section 2, and we still have no leads as to who she really is, or where she is from. Needless to say, this is completely intolerable."

Pausing just long enough to glance down at the children, Misato soon nodded. "Agreed, sir."

"Therefore, as of this very moment, I am assigning a special detail to your apartment. We cannot afford to have anything else happen to the pilots," Gendo declared forcefully. "Also, until the Ghost Rider has been found and captured, I am restricting the activities of all NERV personnel to Tokyo-3. I will also be ordering a curfew to be put in place for the duration."

"Very well, sir," Misato responded. "Will there be anything else, sir?"

"Not at the moment," Gendo told her. "You will be kept apprised of any further details as they are forthcoming."

Misato nodded to this. "Very well, sir. I…"

"Hey, excuse me, sir!" Asuka piped up. "You said that you were going to setting up a security detail for us, right?"

Frowning somewhat at this interruption, Gendo slowly turned towards the German. "That is correct, Pilot Sohryu," he assured her. "Your safety is, of course, our highest priority."

Yeah. Like hell it is! Asuka snorted inwardly. Another stab of pain was all she needed to remember that she had to keep her mind from wandering astray as she moved to seize this opportunity she had just caught sight of. "Well, sir, I was just thinking. You said that Wondergirl is going to need a new place, right?" Neither Gendo nor Fuyutsuki made any response to this. They just sat there and watched as Asuka continued. "Well, in that case, why don't you move her into one of the apartments at our place?"

"Huh?" Shinji got out at this even as Misato directed a glance at the German.

"Well, think about it! More than half the building is empty! It's not like it would be hard to find someplace for her there!" Asuka continued, trying as hard as she could to make her case while keeping the demonic forces within her restrained. "Besides, that way, you wouldn't need another detail to look after her as well! You could have everyone in the same area!"

Gendo continued to frown at Asuka, and if it weren't for the fact that it was impossible, she would have sworn to have seen even greater amounts of cruelty and evil seeping out of his very pores. Then, after what felt like forever, he finally gave her a slight nod. "I will…consider your suggestion," he told her. While Asuka was grinning inwardly, the Commander returned his gaze to Misato. "As for you, Major, you and the children are dismissed."

"Very well, sir," Misato nodded. Turning about on her heels, she looked at her two charges. "Come on, you two. Let's get going."

While the three of them were leaving Gendo and his aura of cruelty behind, Rei was resting in NERV Medical. She was still unconscious, and thus unaware that she was hooked up to various machines that were monitoring her condition. Unaware that she had been visited by those who cared for her…and unaware that she had a new visitor with her that moment. A visitor whose eyes glowed red with cruelty, and whose flesh was a black as the heart of midnight itself.

"Well, well, well. What do we have here?" oozed the creature that hid within the shadows. A creature that stepped into the light, and played his hands about Rei's cheek.

A creature known…as Blackheart.

"Thank you, Ghost Rider. Thank you for giving this girl even greater reason to fear you," Blackheart smiled as darkness unfurled about the entirety of the room. Consuming everything in sight. "Not only do I have the map I sought…but I also have a pure, innocent soul to fetch me my prize…!"

Blackheart's cruel laughter filled the room even as hid darkness retreated back to the nothingness it had come from. And hung in the afterwards, even after he and Rei were gone…

Author's Notes: Nope, I'm not dead. I just feel like I've been stepped on by Unit 01 a few times. Still, I hope you will read and review.

First off, I'd like to apologize for my prolonged lack of updates. Life has not been good to me. Both of my parents have passed away in the time since my last update of SOE: Vengeful Devil, I've had to find a new place to live, and have suffered other problems. So I do apologize.

I've officially finished my latest overhaul of SOE: Vengeful Devil. I've decided to call this version my "Third Time's The Charm" edition. And this time, I really reworked it, addressing serious plotholes, going over things and addressing various issues that I left undealt with previously. With the biggest issue of all undoubtedly being my dislike for Asuka.

Now I'm going to be perfectly honest; I have a great deal of disdain for tsundere girls in general. They mistreat others for the most pathetic of reasons, and it seems that its always the victim that is made out to be the bad guy. And before any of you remind me, yes, I know Asuka suffered a horrendous childhood. I wouldn't wish what happened to her on anyone. And I can definitely see how that would result in her being badly damaged emotionally.

All of that being said, that does not excuse her abusiveness towards others. No matter what other issues she has, Asuka still has the capacity to choose how she treats people. No one is forcing her to yell and scream and talk down to those around her. And while I consider myself a relatively tolerate person, intentional cruelty and abusiveness is where I draw the line.

Still, I hope everyone likes how I handled Asuka with this overhaul. I've already had someone who is infinitely fonder of Asuka than I am look over all these chapters, and reports that my handling of Asuka has improved tremendously.

So I'd like to take a moment to thank Nescaro of FFNet and DeviantArt for reading over all these chapters and giving me feedback on how to better handle Asuka, and MarcoASalazarm for the many new omake ideas.

Zaralann, I hope you like what I did with this story as a whole.

Ryuus2, there's a very good reason why I spared Chiron this chapter...to prolong his suffering. Cue evil laugh.

You are right in that Asuka does have trouble with details and anticipating various problems. That's something that's going to come back to bite her in the future.

Actually, Ritsuko has seen the 12th Angel, though that battle didn't result in Shinji getting sucked into it...though she and Rei very nearly did!

Dragonjek, yes, I know I have problems in dealing with Asuka. A great many problems. That's why I went to the trouble of overhauling this story to the degree I did. And I know that I've been moving slowly with the romantic aspects, as well as Asuka's development. But I'm also trying to be believable in her development. In canon, we saw very little in the way of development between Shinji and Asuka because of their respective problems. So I think it makes sense that, even with everything that's happened here, Asuka would still be slow to develop.

Xardion, you clearly haven't seen some of the nastier feats the Ghost Rider can pull off. And yup, things are going to be getting nastier in the future. And, oh, you better believe that Barney is torment! Waaaaahhhhh!

nased0, I hope this doesn't come as bashing, but Asuka sometimes fails to predict the obvious. This becomes especially clear when she rushes into a battle without a plan and gets busted as a result.

dennisud, nope, I'm not dead. I've just been thrashed royally by life. But now I've worked up a new way of getting chapters out, so it won't be nearly so long before my next update. :D

Quathis, I've felt of Asuka as being book smart, but street dumb, as it were. She may have all that knowledge, but she doesn't really seem to be able to apply it in a real world situation. And you're right, things did go according to plan, until Rei's apartment fell apart. And you're right; that is what I was going for.

Well, that's about all I can say right now. Hopefully, it won't be as long until my next update.

Omake 1

"No, my son," Mephisto grinned, shaking his head as he looked down at the gentle priest. A rare man who glowed with the light of true innocence. "Mercy would have been allow you to finish what you started." He then returned his focus Blackheart, allowing his ire to surface. Taking pleasure in the way his adopted son quailed, no matter how well he concealed it, the crimson horror added, "And mercy is something you will beg for, unless you find that map and put it to use. Immediately."

Again, Blackheart growled his displeasure, but soon relented. Casting one last look at the priest, who was already slowly recovering from his brush with death, the malicious creature stalked off into the night. Moving quickly upon the hallowed ground, where few such creatures could ever tread.

Satisfied that his rebellious son had been put in his place, and would eventually track down the required object, Mephisto once again looked down upon the innocent priest. "When the time comes, holy man, you will wish that I had not stayed my son's hand," he told him, thinking of the dark times that were soon to come. "Instead, you will be here to witness the birth of the new Hell…and my new age of glory." Chuckling at this, at the picture of this world's future, Mephisto found himself looking forward to the reward that all this innocent priest's goodness will ultimately reap him. "Perhaps, when that is done…I'll let my son have his fun with you. He will have all of eternity…to make you scream."

The downed priest didn't react to this.

"Don't believe me, priest? My son knows many ways to inflict torment on a person." Mephisto chortled. "In fact, I believe he has several condemned souls trapped in the dark pits. Suffering agony beyond measure…"

Meanwhile, in the deepest, darkest pits of the abyss, screams of pain and cries for mercy were heard echoing throughout the scorched realm of horror. Sounds that came from one particular cave, where many doomed souls were strapped into their seats, begging someone, anyone, to save them.

"Please, stop it! No more!"

"Someone, turn it off! I beg of you! Turn it offff!"

"I can't take it anymore! I'd kill myself if I weren't already dead!"

And all the while, completely heedless of their torment, the television that was placed before them continued to play for their misery. With a single voice rising up above cries of the damned.

"I love you, you love me…!"

"No! Not again!" one doomed soul cried out. "Oh, why did Blackheart have to pick up every single episode…of 'Barney and Friends'?!"

(Disclaimer: I do not own Barney, or anything associated with it. And thank goodness for small favors!)

Omake 2

"Ha ha!" the Ghost Rider shrieked in delight. Shedding her expended rocket launcher with the intent of reclaiming it later, she then brought forth her Gatling repulsor. "Aw, damn! That couldn't have worked better even if I'd planned it!"

Which we did, young Rider, Zarathos pointed out. However, I suggest you move quickly. We don't want our prey to escape, now do we?

"Ha! Like that'll happen!" the Ghost Rider grinned, looking down on the remaining Section 2 goons, most of them in disarray and stalled still as a result of her last rocket. Now they were struggling to move, to turn about and escape the way they had came. Deciding that that simply wouldn't do, the Ghost Rider took aim at the various vehicles, and depressed the firing stud on her mammoth weapon. The Gatling repulsor spun to life, unleashing a barrage of hellfire upon them. Within seconds, several more Section 2 cars were up in flames, blocking off the few that remained from escaping.

"Monster kill!" the Ghost Rider chortled menacingly. Then she reached into her jacket and pulled out a skull-like object. "Grenade!"

Biting the pin and pulling it out, she then sent the explosive flying into the midst of another bunch of Section 2 goons even as they attempted to flee. The grenade exploded upon impact, releasing plumes of hellfire that consumed them utterly. "Mega kill!"

Young Rider, must you do that? Zarathos grumbled irritably.

Pausing even as she was about to retrieve another of her weapons, Ghost Rider asked, "Do what?"

Use dialogue from a video game, Zarathos elaborated with some annoyance. Such a thing is undignified, and unbefitting a Ghost Rider.

Bristling at this remark, Ghost Rider then shot back, "Back off, Zarathos! I'm the one doing the fighting! That means that I'll say whatever I want!" With that, she reached back and grabbed another weapon. "Heavy machine gun!" she cried out before leaping into the air and spraying the agents below with a hailstorm of bullets. "Kill-Y-Manjaro!"

Ugh...I knew letting her play "Metal Slug" was a mistake... Zarathos groaned as the carnage continued.

(Disclaimer: I do not own Metal Slug or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.)

Omake 3

Young Rider, there isn't much time! Zarathos urged her. His words echoed by the continued deterioration of the building's integrity. We have to escape as quickly as possible!

Then you better damn well help me out here, Big Z! the Ghost Rider returned gruffly, not pausing in her efforts. Because I am not leaving without her! You got that?! If Zarathos had anything to say to this, he decided to keep it to himself. Which was just fine with the blazing motorcyclist, who continued to toss aside the chunks of rotten drywall, doing her best to tune out the growing intensity of the groans of metal and the snapping of wood.

It was none too soon that the Ghost Rider threw away the last remaining fragment of debris. Moving carefully, wary of any potential injuries Rei might have, she scooped the albino into her arms. Okay, Zarathos. Now we can get out of here!

And none too soon, the demon grumbled in response, edging the Ghostcycle closer. Wincing as the sounds of collapse worsened, the Ghost Rider couldn't help but agree as she got to her feet.

"Hold on tight!" the Ghost Rider told the insensate girl as she prepared to mount her monstrous steed. "Because we're outta he-eeerrre!"

As it turned out, what the two girls had run out of was time. A massive roar filled the building, followed soon after by a trembling that it shook them through and through. Before the Ghost Rider had a chance to process what was happening, the world seemed to teeter on edge, just before the building continued the fall it had already begun. Sending both the horned superwoman and her helpless charge sliding down the floor towards their doom.

Her mind emptied with shock, the Ghost Rider looked down towards the end of the hall. Only to gasp in surprise when a silvery blur shot into view, zooming right towards her. "What the -?!" the horned biker yelped, only for her voice to fail her when the metallic streak swallowed up Rei. An instant later, a figure coated in quicksilver emerged from the board and, with a gesture, surrounded the Ghost Rider with a field of electric blue.

"Hey, what are you -?!" Ghost Rider barked in surprise, only to swallow her words when the metallic girl shot forward, outrunning the destruction of the building, leaving it behind just before it collapsed utterly.

As the two superwomen left the smoldering wreckage of the fallen building behind, the Ghost Rider angled herself to better study the metal girl. "How...Rei, is that you?!"

"Yes," the silver surfboarder returned. "Now...why did you destroy my apartment?"

As the mercurial superwoman glared at the Ghost Rider, she in turn groaned and massaged her now throbbing temples. "I shoulda just stayed the hell in bed..."