Disclaimer: Neon Genesis Evangelion is the creation of Anno and Gainax. I don't own it, make no claims to it, and am making no profit from this fan fiction. No infringement of copyright is intended. In other words, please don't sue.
Disclaimer: I do not own DC comics or anything associated with it and am making no profit off this fan fiction. No infringement of copyright is intended. In other words, please don't sue.
Chapter Nineteen: Attack on the Fourth Child
It was approaching dusk near Matsushiro. The sun had turned a dark crimson as it dipped toward the horizon, illuminating the countryside in a bloody glow.
Even though Wonder Girl had been trained not to allow irrelevant thoughts from distracting her during combat, as she gazed at the armored form of the Dark Centurion, she couldn't help but hope that that red light wasn't an omen.
For while the Amazon would more than welcome a fair fight with the demigod who had threatened her and those she cared about again and again, she knew he was equally determined not to offer her one, and this day was no exception. Not only was she without her lasso at the moment, but she also had to worry about protecting the Fourth Child, who she'd just rescued from the Angel-possessed Unit Three.
Definitely not the ideal circumstances, but she no choice but to fight, at least until Pilot Suzuhara could get to the cover and the relative safety of the nearby woods.
The Amazon and the demigod charged toward one another, both with lethal intent. The Dark Centurion's blazing sword came down, and she raised an arm, deflecting the blow with one of her silver bracers. Even with her enormous strength, the impact of the strike reverberated painfully through Wonder Girl's arm, and the heat from the flames was all but unbearable.
Ignoring her discomfort, she struck with her free hand, her fist hitting the center of the Dark Centurion's metal breastplate. There was a clang, and he went sliding backwards several meters, releasing a grunt of displeasure as he went.
Before Wonder Girl could capitalize on her minor victory and try to press the offense, the demigod raised his sword, firing a jet of flame from it.
The Amazon was surprised when it missed her entirely and went streaking straight for Toji, who was still trying to make it to cover. Suppressing a curse, she took off at top speed, just barely managing to get between the Fourth Child and the attack in time.
She crossed her arms before her as the flames slammed into her bracers, gritting her teeth as the metal began to glow orange. Her invulnerable flesh refused to burn, but the heat was still painful.
The Dark Centurion, taking advantage of the abrupt and desperate move he'd forced her into, charged at the Amazon, reaching her just as the blast of unholy flame ended. From Wonder Girl's perspective, he seemed to burst out of the fire, ebony sword already in mid swing.
The superwoman managed—barely—to deflect the attack again, but her foe was expecting that. With his free hand, he reached out, clamping gauntleted fingers around Wonder Girl's slender neck with incredible strength. The blue haired superwoman felt her airways close and fear shot through her.
Both her Amazonian training and her time as an Evangelion pilot had taught her how to deal with fear. Ruthlessly suppressing the urge to panic, she reached up and grabbed the Dark Centurion's wrist, squeezing it with her own enormous strength. The armor beneath her fingers quickly crumpled.
Realizing that Wonder Girl would escape his grip long before he managed to strangle her, the Dark Centurion hurled the Amazon away, sending her flying.
Wonder Girl quickly righted herself as she sailed through the air, planting her booted feet on the ground and allowing herself to skid for several meters along the ground before coming to a stop.
She looked around. The Dark Centurion was nowhere to be found. Pilot Suzuhara was staggering toward the tree line, more dazed than anything else by his repeated brushes with death that day. The Amazon curled her hands into fists, eyes darting this way and that as she searched for her foe, struggling not to look as frantic as she suddenly felt.
The sound of a twig snapping beneath her was what alerted the superwoman. With a wordless shout, she spun on her heel, swinging her fist into the Dark Centurion's armored chest with enough force to dent the obsidian metal.
"Ugh!" he grunted as the blow caused him to stagger back a step.
This was probably the moment when someone else in Wonder Girl position would've let some witty quip fly. The blue haired superwoman never even gave it thought; even if she'd been a chattier sort of person, her fellow Amazons had taught her that battle was never the time for jokes.
Instead she pressed her attack, raining blows upon the Dark Centurion's head and torso, doing all she could to prevent him from seizing the initiative while simultaneously reducing his armor to a battered mess.
If I can just hold out until Suzuhara makes it out of sight…
The Dark Centurion managed to deflect a single one of Wonder Girl's punches with his armored forearm.
Had the circumstances of their battle been different, it probably would have mattered little. The Amazon almost certainly wouldn't have let the minor disruption to her momentum force her to cede the offensive.
Unfortunately, as it was, the brief opening was just enough for the armored demigod to swing his ebony sword, causing the tip of the blade to disgorge a sphere of crimson flame.
Wonder Girl was unsurprised when the attack ignored her entirely and headed for Toji. This time the jock saw it coming and had the presence of mind to alter his course to avoid it. The Amazon almost turned her full attention back to the Dark Centurion when she saw that, but one other thing she spotted out of the corner of her eye stopped her.
The missile of fire that the Dark Centurion had launched had changed course right along with Pilot Suzuhara to continue dogging him. The demigod had managed to unleash a ball of flame that could seek its target.
Again resisting the urge to swear, the Amazon sent her foe tumbling to the ground with a hard shove, then took off toward Suzuhara at top speed. Drawing near to the young man, she quickly cast her gaze about for something she could use, knowing her bracers couldn't block the entire fireball.
She soon spotted a small boulder that was mostly embedded in the ground, near the tree line. Rushing over to it, the superwoman grabbed hold, releasing a small grunt as she pulled it free of the earth and lifted it above her head, bits of dirt falling from its previously hidden underside.
Suzuhara was running very quickly by the point, but the fireball pursuing him was also picking up speed, Wonder Girl noted.
Flying back toward the burning missile, the Amazon brought her boulder down upon it. It was instantly extinguished with a muffled whump! sound.
That had certainly been easy enough, but of course, actually killing the newest Evangelion pilot had never been the Dark Centurion's true motive. Instead, he'd wanted to gain himself some breathing room, and he had certainly done that. Once again, the Amazon had no idea where her foe was.
Clenching her jaw, she assumed a ready stance. Wonder Girl's muscles were like coiled springs, tense and ready to move at the slightest provocation. She pricked her ears as she waited for her enemy to try to stab her in the back again, taking some small comfort in the knowledge that he probably wouldn't get to pull this trick a third time. Suzuhara had nearly reached the trees by now; assuming he could find a halfway decent hiding place, the Dark Centurion wouldn't be able to make him a target again nearly so easily.
A strangled cry of fright and surprise seized her attention, and Wonder Girl turned, red eyes widening.
The Dark Centurion had decided to appear right before Suzuhara this time. The armored figure was looming over the jock, who clearly had no idea what was the best thing to do when confronted by someone wielding a sword.
Even though she knew there was no reason for Pilot Suzuhara to ever expect to face such a situation, she still found herself annoyed by his complete lack of a meaningful response. If only he had turned and sprinted off, the Dark Centurion never would've been able to catch him, at least not on foot. Not with all that armor weighing him down.
She was about to tell Suzuhara to run when the demigod lashed out with his sword, and Wonder Girl felt her heart leap into her chest, sure that Pilot Suzuhara was about to die, that she had failed to protect Shinji's best friend.
Then Pilot Suzuhara dodged, demonstrating impressive reflexes. The Dark Centurion's sword just missed him. Wonder Girl felt relief flood her.
Only to tense up again as her armored foe attack again. Suzuhara tried to get out of the way a second time, but he was just a touch too slow. The very tip of the weapon ran along the length of his right forearm, causing his plug suit to abruptly depressurize with a whoosh of air, the previously tight garment suddenly hanging off his form. A long but mercifully shallow red line appeared on his forearm.
Then the Amazon was right next to the Evangelion pilot, her fist slamming into the Dark Centurion's chest and sending him flying once again.
"Go!" she barked at the pilot.
Suzuhara didn't need to be told twice, and resumed course, finally making it to the forest and quickly disappearing from view within the thick shrubbery.
Nor was that the only piece of good news; she could hear the sound of helicopters and heavy vehicles drawing close. No doubt they were JSSDF forces en route to find the Fourth Child and evacuate him from the combat zone.
The Dark Centurion seemed to have realized his window of opportunity was closing; his armored form was already fading into shadow.
"Until next time, Amazon," he sneered.
Wonder Girl had no intention of allowing him to just leave. With a growl, she shot forward, fist extended.
He disappeared just before she could hit him, and her punch instead reduced much of the tree he'd been standing into front of to splinters. With a scowl, she shoved away the portion of it that wanted to fall on top of her, then looked about, waiting for him to reappear and renew his attack.
Several moments passed, and the Dark Centurion failed to materialize again. The sound of approaching vehicles grew steadily louder. Wonder Girl eventually decided it was safe to her to depart the area, and, indeed, increasingly risky for her to remain. She wasn't quite sure what the JSSDF's attitude toward her was, but she wasn't particularly eager to find out.
Rising to just above the tops of the trees, she was easily able to see the still ongoing battle between the possessed Evangelion and Units One and Two. Now that they no longer had to worry about killing Pilot Suzuhara, Shinji and Pilot Soryu weren't holding anything back and were clearly on their way to destroying their enemy.
Wonder Girl was no longer needed here. It was time to collect her lasso and vacate the area, glad that no one had died here today.
"For Gott's sake, would you just die already?!" Asuka snarled as Unit Two plunged it's progressive knife straight into the face of Unit Three.
The battle against the Angel possessed Evangelion seemed liked it was taking forever. She and Shinji had done an enormous amount of damage to it, but so far it just kept on fighting. Its armor was broken in too many places to count, but it ignored the damage. They had cut off both its arms, but it had just responded by trying to bite them.
Hopefully, this would finish it now.
"You're beaten!" she yelled. "Give up so we can call it a day already!"
Unit Three responded by kicking her, hard. The redhead released a curse as the pain shot through the neural links and her own shin started to throb.
"Shinji!" she barked.
"Step back!" he ordered, Unit One raising a progressive axe.
Asuka didn't need to be told twice, leaping away from the Angel. Before it could respond to having a bit more breathing room, Shinji attacked from behind, taking off the black Evangelion's legs just above the knees. The now nearly limbless EVA immediately began to fall forward, but a hard shove from Unit Two quickly reversed its direction, causing it to fall onto its back instead.
The ground rumbled as the badly wounded titan crashed to the earth. Yet the moment Unit Three was stable again, it started struggling to get toward the crimson Evangelion, jaws still snapping.
"All right, I've had enough," Asuka growled, fury blazing in her blue eyes.
Grabbing hold of her prog knife again, she cut the EVA turned Angel straight down the length of its body from chest to crotch. Blood sprayed everywhere.
Finally, the Angel went still.
"The MAGI are no longer detecting a blue pattern. The Angel is dead," Lieutenant Ibuki confirmed what the Second Child already knew.
"Great job, you two," Misato added. "Return to headquarters."
"Roger," Shinji and Asuka replied as one.
With the battle done, the Second Child was all too happy to leave the area to the rest of NERV to clean up. She started to trudge back to the waiting EVA carrier, which would return them to Tokyo-3.
"Not bad, Third Child," she said, opening a link to the other Evangelion.
"Thanks," he replied glumly.
She frowned. "Why so gloomy?" she demanded. "Upset I performed so much better than you did in this fight?" she added with a smirk.
The Third Child shook his head. "It's not that," he said. "I was, um, doing something before the alert, and I know that by the time we get through debriefing and everything, it'll be too late to get back to it."
"What, were you on a date or something?" the Second Child scoffed, failing to notice Shinji's reaction to her words. "We just saved the world again, so you might as well just get over it."
"Yeah, I guess you're right," he sighed.
"Geeze, do we really have to go through all this?" Toji asked a couple of hours later.
"Welcome to NERV," Shinji grumbled.
All the pilots had finally gotten through their debriefings, something that had taken an especially long time for the newly minted Fourth Child, ironically thanks mostly to the encounters he'd had after escaping his Evangelion. Now the two male pilots were sitting in an exam room in the NERV Medical Ward.
"The post action checkup is very important," the doctor doing the exam on the two of them lectured.
Shinji felt like he could have disputed that; he'd been through a bunch of these things already, and not once had they resulted in finding some kind of problem (or at least, they'd never found a problem that wasn't already glaringly obvious). However, he felt quite confident that the doctor would have a retort for that all ready to go.
Besides, if there was one thing one thing being a member of NERV had taught him, it was that there was little point in fighting protocols and regulations where something with a big bureaucracy was concerned.
The checkup continued for what felt like an hour, until they neared what Shinji recognized as the typical end of the routine.
"Can we go now?" he finally dared to ask.
"You're free to go if you like, Pilot Ikari," the doctor said, then turned to Toji. "You, on the other hand, are not."
"What, why?" Toji demanded, startled.
"I still have to treat that cut on your arm," the physician replied.
The jock scowled. "This?" he asked, holding up his arm. "C'mon, doc, this is fine. I've gottwb worse from falling while playing basketball."
"But when you played basketball, you weren't my responsibility," the doctor snapped, already getting the peroxide.
"Just go with it, Toji," Shinji said, deciding he may as well stick around a few extra minutes, instead of just abandoning his friend. "It'll be quicker that way."
"Fine," the taller boy huffed.
With the matter settled, the doctor quickly went about the job of disinfecting the long but shallow cut, something that evoked many hisses of pain and much complaining from Toji.
Shinji rolled his eyes, turning his head so his friend wouldn't see him. The big jock was always trying to act like a tough guy, but he could be a real baby, too, apparently.
Once that was out of the way, Toji was given a bandage that was rather excessive for such a minor wound, and only then were the two released.
"Man, that sucked," the jock grumbled as he and Shinji escaped into the hallway outside the ward.
"Yeah," Shinji agreed. "Still, it could've been a whole lot worse." He added.
Really, compared to what could've happened if Wonder Girl hadn't been around to get the newly minted Fourth Child out of his entry plug, yet another trip through the ward was nothing.
"Yeah, it could've been worse," Toji agreed. "Still, that was nuts. And we have to go through that after every battle?"
Shinji decided not to point out that Toji probably wouldn't see another battle again for a while, considering his Evangelion had been hacked to pieces. He was pretty sure his friend could figure that out on his own.
"Every battle you take part in, yeah," he said instead.
Toji shook his head. "And Kensuke envies us."
In spite of all the ups and downs he'd endured that day, Shinji allowed himself a smile at that.
It was well after dark by the time Shinji finally made it back to the apartment building he called home. Looking up at the structure, he let out a small sigh; all the windows were dark, save for the one in the apartment where he currently resided. That meant Rei was asleep already, too.
He had told himself there was no possible chance that he and Rei could just resume their dinner (date?) like nothing had happened; over six hours had passed since he'd had to leave to fight the latest Angel. Still, it seemed part of him had held out hope they could do just that.
Silently riding the elevator up to his floor, Shinji stepped out into the hallway, intending to just get back to his apartment and collapse into bed. However, he stopped when he passed Rei's door, noticing it was ajar. It wasn't wide open, but it certainly wasn't shut.
Frowning, he slowly pushed the door open further, stepping into the dark apartment. "Rei?" he whispered.
Anxiety began to prick at him, even as he told himself there was no reason for it. Section Two would never let a burglar or something just walk into the building where three-fourths of the Evangelion pilots lived and assault the First Child.
Standing in the doorway, his eyes gradually adjusted to the minimal light inside the apartment. No longer blind in the darkness, he carefully made his way inside.
"Rei?" he whispered again.
Still no sign of the First Child, though he did spot a pot of tea sitting on the kitchen table, cold and long since abandoned.
Pressing forward a little further finally revealed the lady of the apartment. Rei was laying on the couch, dressed far more casually than she had been hours ago.
Did she try and wait for me? He wondered.
Part of him wanted to reject the notion out of hand, because who would wait for him like that? On the other hand, it sure looked like that was what had happened.
He smiled and shook his head. Spying a blanket nearby, he draped it over the sleeping EVA pilot.
"Good night, Rei," he whispered, then left the apartment, closing the door softly behind himself.
After the day they had all endured, the Evangelion pilots richly deserved a good night's sleep. Unfortunately, a certain demigod was working to arrange that one of them got very little rest indeed.
In the small apartment he'd been calling home since he'd arrived in Tokyo-3, Takai Banryu was dressed in the full armor of his Dark Centurion identity, which was not something he normally did when he wasn't expecting battle.
The blinds on all the windows were drawn, leaving a single, ancient looking oil lamp to provide the only illumination. Symbols of Hades were carefully arranged all around the room.
Deeming himself ready for what he intended to do, the demigod drew his sword. It emerged from its sheath with a soft whisper of steel. For once, the dark blade was not immediately wreathed in flames.
He silently appraised the weapon. Even in the weak light, he could just make out the few drops of blood on the razor sharp edge.
The Fourth Child's blood.
Commander Ikari would probably not be happy if he discovered what Takai was about to do, but it wasn't like he'd truly ever answered to the man.
Carefully setting the blade on the floor, the demigod kneeled, as if in prayer. The impression only grew stronger when he started to speak softly in ancient Greek. However, the power he called upon was not that of his divine father, but his own.
Beads of sweat popped out across his forehead and then rolled down his face, but he ignored the discomfort, continuing on. He had a task to perform, and he could not stop until it was done.
Meanwhile, Toji Suzuhara was involved in much less mysterious and sinister activities. In fact, the only thing the newest Evangelion pilot was doing was trying to catch some shut eye.
It was funny, he mused. Toji rarely had difficulty getting to sleep, and after the terrifying and exhausting day he'd had, he had been certain that he'd crash the moment he got into bed.
That hadn't happened. Instead, he found himself just staring up at the ceiling, feeling much more wide awake than he had any right to be.
He couldn't seem to stop thinking about the events of that day.
Like everyone who called Tokyo-3 home, Toji was more aware of his mortality than people who lived in other, safer parts of Japan. Still, his disastrous first activation test had definitely been as close as he'd ever come to death, and it had left him pretty rattled, much as he might've hated to admit it to anybody.
Is this what it's like for Shinji? And Ayanami? And the Red Devil? He wondered.
Of course, he knew none of the other pilots had gone through the terrifying experience of having their Evangelion hijacked by an Angel. Still, he suspected that by now they all realized that disaster could strike every time their Evangelions powered up around them. He'd only been a pilot briefly, and he was already starting to realize that NERV didn't have nearly as much understanding or control of the Evangelions as they'd like people to believe.
All in all, it was enough to make him feel even worse about hitting Shinji the first time they'd met, and it was definitely enough to make him think that the seemingly meek guy had a lot more courage than you could tell just from hanging around him at school. It had also caused him to gain a healthy dose of respect for Ayanami and (grudgingly) Soryu as well.
Not only that, but it had made him pretty glad that Shinji and Asuka had cut Unit Three to pieces. Misato had quietly told him that while NERV would try to salvage it, and that while Toji would officially remain on the pilot's roster, the combination of the damage and the likely Angelic contamination made it unlikely that it would ever work again. Without an Evangelion of his own, Toji was pretty much off the hook.
He felt a little guilty at being so relieved about that—Shinji could certainly use somebody who wasn't as weird as Ayanami or as nasty as the Red Demon to watch his back—but since he couldn't do anything to change it, it didn't make him feel that guilty.
So, with the comforting thought that he'd probably never have to step inside an Evangelion's entry plug again, he finally began to drift toward sleep.
He was nearly out when the pain hit.
Gasping as his eyes popped open, the jock gripped his forearm, the source of the agony. Tears sprang to the corners of his eyes as the worst pain he'd ever experienced shot through him.
What the hell? He wondered, bewildered.
The pain seemed to be coming from the long but insignificant little scratch he'd gotten from the armored psycho's sword, he realized. Straining his eyes to appraise his arm in the dark, he was surprised to see that the oversized bandage he hadn't yet bothered to remove was still white and clean. He'd expected to find it soaked with blood.
"Oh, God," he breathed as the pain seemed to intensify.
Something was really, really wrong with him. He tried to scream for help, but he could barely make a sound. He felt like he'd had all the wind knocked out of him.
His desperation growing along with the pain, Toji tried to get to his feet, but all he managed to do was fall out of bed. His vision tunneling, he tried to crawl toward the door.
He barely covered any distance at all before he passed out.
Shinji Ikari greeted the next day with an unusual level of eagerness and good cheer. Disaster had been averted the previous day, which was always a good reason to be grateful, and he would get to see Rei again.
Maybe I can invite her to dinner somewhere, or offer to cook her dinner this time, he mused as he prepared breakfast for everyone that morning.
"Well, someone seems happy this morning," Misato said, grinning mischievously. "Did something good happen to you recently, Shinji? Maybe an encounter with a lovely young lady?"
"Ha!" Asuka scoffed, crossing her arms. "As if any self respecting female would want anything to do with the dummy here!"
Cook dinner for Rei at her apartment, he mentally amended his earlier idea. Because inviting her here clearly isn't a good idea…
"I'm just glad nobody was seriously hurt yesterday," he said aloud. "I would've felt awful if something happened."
Especially after what happened to his sister, he added silently as he dished out breakfast.
To his relief, that seemed to satisfy his apartment mates, who shifted their attention from him to their food, and he was able to escape with no further teasing or questions. It wasn't long before he and Asuka were arriving at the schoolyard.
"Hey, Shinji," Kensuke approached him, looking troubled.
"Morning, Kensuke," the Third Child responded as Asuka wandered off, pointedly not greeting the otaku. "What's up?"
"Toji hasn't come in this morning," Kensuke answered. "Is he okay? I heard nothing happened to him, but…"
Shinji felt anxiety prick at his stomach but decided to try to reassure both his friend and himself. "I'm sure he's fine," he said. "The doctors at NERV Medical cleared him to leave last night. I was there. They probably just called him back for extra tests this morning. They can be really paranoid over there about our health, and that's when our Evangelions don't get taken over by an Angel."
"If you say so," Kensuke said with a shrug, seemingly put at ease. "So, what exactly happened the other day? People have heard most of the basics by now, but not the details." He added eagerly.
"I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say," Shinji deflected, then quickly moved to change the subject before his friend could press the issue. "By the way, have you seen Ayanami around?"
"No, she's not in today," Kensuke said. "I'd assumed she was hurt or something again."
Shinji shook his head. "She didn't even participate in the last battle," he said. "I wonder where she could be…"
"What are you, stupid?" Asuka asked, startling him. He'd thought the Second Child was out of earshot by now. "They're trying to get her pathetic excuse for an EVA working again, and they need her for the reactivation test today. How could you forget about that?"
"I guess I just lost track of what day it was," Shinji said, struggling to hide how disappointed he was. "After all the chaos yesterday."
Asuka scoffed. "Always with the excuses from you."
Shinji ignored the barb, heading to class. His previous good mood was mostly gone by now.
I can see Rei later, he told himself.
The school day passed at a torturously slow pace, and every time someone appeared at the door to classroom 1-A, Shinji hoped it was Rei or Toji coming to join the rest of them. However, every time it was someone else.
At last, the final bell sounded. Shinji gathered his things as quickly as he felt he could without drawing attention to himself and headed for the door.
You're being silly, he told himself as he made his way through the halls. You can't just expect what happened last night to happen again as soon as you're alone with Rei. And that's assuming she was really trying to express interest in you last night.
Despite these thoughts, his pace quickened.
Yet the moment he stepped outside into the schoolyard, that feeling of anxiety Kensuke had evoked in him earlier that day suddenly returned.
A very familiar Renault Alpine was parked right outside the school.
Misato almost never picked him or Asuka up from school. Too busy at NERV most of the time.
Trying to shake the feeling of foreboding, he approached the car.
"Hi, Shinji," Misato said, leaning out the window.
The Third Child felt his anxiety grow a little stronger. His guardian's tone was pleasant enough, but she wasn't smiling. Except for when an Angel was attacking, that was unusual.
He was pretty sure there wasn't an Angel attack.
"Misato?" he spoke. "Is everything okay?"
"I…" she shook her head. "No. Something has happened to Toji."
Author's Notes: Ominous, isn't it? Well, hopefully we'll be able to find out exactly what's happened in less than a year. Apologies for the slow pace of updates; I've got a lot more things to deal with than I used to. That said, I'm not going to abandon the SOE2 series, I can promise you all that much.
Anyway, thanks as always to my readers and reviewers, and thanks to my beta reader as well.