"Before and After," by Muphrid. After the battle with the Twelfth Angel, Rei begins to reexamine who she is and whether she can accept the fate Gendō's dealt her.

Note: this is a double update. Please be sure to read chapter nine, "Before Impact," prior to this concluding chapter.


During and After

Finale

I'd feared the giant would overtake me. I'd thought its mind incomprehensible, but I was wrong. The giant had lived for billions of years. It'd made a lonely journey and spawned life because that it'd been told to. The First Ones had created it to fulfill that goal. It, like me, was something made. It's true: the giant's mind is incomprehensible. The only thing more difficult than understanding how it sees and thinks is to explain that instead. I cannot. With words that humans will understand, that fit on this piece of paper, I cannot. The giant's mind is my mind. The giant's body is my body. It took me within itself. It took my experiences and made them its own.

That's why I know the things I've written here.

That's why I've seen things I couldn't have seen.

I've been in the minds of people. I've been in their hearts. I know everything they've felt and yearned for.

There is no Lilith anymore.

There is no Ayanami Rei anymore.

There is only me.

I am both. I am neither.

I am the god that brings humanity's pained existence to an end.

I am everywhere and nowhere. Only the speed of light and the shape of space limit what I see. I am. I was. I will be. I am in the past and the future. I see the First Ones. I understand their fears. They knew something like me would glimpse everything about them—their hearts, their minds, their flesh. They feared not my pride. They knew, against me, they could never defend themselves.

Should I hate them? Should I hate him, and—in doing so—resent my own existence?

I peered into the past. I glimpsed myself. I saw a woman choke a child until its little body went limp in her hands. I saw a girl emerge from the orange fluid of that tank I know. She walked between her apartment and the pyramid below for many months. She communed with the soul of a synthetic being and shied away, over and over, and when she touched it and it touched her, the rage inside the Eva wounded her. It cracked her bones.

That's when she met the boy, and the other girl came soon after. Through them, she glimpsed humanity: its indecisiveness, its flaws, its anger, and its loneliness. Loneliness stuck with her. She knew it on her last day. A creature invaded her mind; it forced open her heart, and she cried. She sacrificed herself. It was her wish to be one with that boy, but she knew she couldn't. She brought the enemy within herself. She pulled the lever and looked to the sky. I think she remembered something, but I can't bring myself to touch her heart and know. I visited her apartment, watching from the window as an explosion shook the foundations. In the hours that followed, men in black suits and glasses broke into her room. They scoured the drawers. They looked under the bed. They ripped the pages from her spiral notebook and packed it into her bag, content to take her memory as well as her life.

But that's fine. I can go back, and I have. I've seen those pages. I've read them at the foot of her bed. I don't remember being her, but I can read and see. I know that, with her last breath, her loneliness was never sated.

That is the fate of humanity—to seek joy and love in others and be rebuffed. I've seen it everywhere: in myself, in the pilot of Unit-02…

In Ikari-kun. He gave up on finding comfort in this world, separated from people, so I went to him. I grew. I merged with the body of the giant, and the giant's body became mine. It took the form and shape of the woman I'd been made to resemble, and it grew. I grew. I towered over the islands of Japan, and for a moment, I lost myself.

Until Ikari-kun said my name.

I took him within me. I took him inside. I brought the souls together of ones he loved: the major, the pilot of Unit-02, and my own. It was the Second Child he yearned for most. He begged her to support him, to be with him, but in the landscape of his mind, she rejected him. It was then he wished to kill her, to end this world.

I am only the instrument of his wish.

I said it before: I am everywhere and nowhere. Past and future have blended together. I peer into the souls of humanity. I know what men and women yearn for. Even the husband who thinks himself happily married harbors unvocalized desires. He may want more control over money. He may fantasize about different women or techniques for the bedroom. There is something he would embrace to escape from reality. I know this because I've done it. I've looked into people's hearts. I showed them what they wanted, and invariably, they acquiesced.

It started with Lieutenant Hyūga.

He was a student at university when he met her—the person who was most special to him. It was an address, a recruitment campaign, and her superiors had chosen her to represent them. She was a model officer, they said, so on an improvised stage she strutted out, surrounded by the campus green. He watched her, curious, following every step. She wasn't a Self-Defence Force officer—they were his instructors. Their uniforms were different and not cut so short.

"I know you've been warned not to listen to too much that I say," she'd begun. "They're afraid I'll tell you we pay better, we have better privileges, and that the work is, well, that much more important and cool." She'd winked. "Oops, I guess I just said all of that. But it's all true. Special Agency Nerv is being formed, and we need you. All of you—you're on the road to officer candidacy, to careers in the Self-Defense Forces. It is an honor to protect our people in this time of uncertainty, and the SDF will offer that, but Nerv can offer you something more—it is a greater risk but a greater challenge. If you're up to it…" She'd winked again. "I'll be waiting."

He was first in line at her booth. The pamphlets she gave out were vague and uninformative. The secrecy of it appealed to him. "The truth of the matter is," she said, "I can't quite tell you how interesting this work will be. Why don't you sign up and see for yourself?"

He did. He forewent officer candidate school. He joined Nerv, hoping to work with her, and they did, for a time. She trained him herself, for she was his captain, and he followed her. On his first day, she walked him to and from their base on the River Elbe. She wasn't a technical specialist. Most of his qualification training came from others, but she oversaw his progress. She awarded him his lieutenant's insignia personally, presenting it to him in a small, felt-covered box as a lover would present a ring. At her apartment in Hamburg, she held a party for the new lieutenant, and this he awaited with great anticipation.

That's when he met the Other—the man with the ponytail and unshaven stubble. The captain and the Other bickered, but Lieutenant Hyūga understood quickly. He asked for a transfer back to Japan, and it was done. It wasn't for some time until the captain returned to Japan, but he knew the Other would soon follow. Nevertheless, he made himself her source into the inner workings of Nerv, so that together, they would uncover its secrets. When the Other died, he felt guilt for lusting after her—the captain she'd been, the major she'd become—but not for long.

I've seen the past. I know what lies in Hyūga Makoto's heart. I appeared to him as the major, Katsuragi Misato, and he was eager to touch me. He was elated to touch me. He yearned to be one with her. He knew, in his mind, it couldn't be the major, yet in the end, he embraced her. He embraced me. That's what made it easy to lower the wall to his heart. His soul exploded from his body, and only the LCL that made up his flesh remained.

That world overflowed with sorrow.

Its people drowned in emptiness.

Only yearning filled their hearts.

For Lieutenant Hyūga, it was yearning for Major Katsuragi. He convinced himself that aiding her quest for truth was enough. That was a lie. Given the opportunity to embrace her, he did so. His soul sought release, and I…

I gave it. I lowered his AT field, and his soul came rushing out.

He wasn't the only one. The recent dead and all the living I visited. I showed them what they wanted, and I took their souls to become one. The major I took. The doctor I took. The vice commander knew I was a specter of Ikari Yui, but he welcomed my touch, so I took him, too. I brought them all together, for Ikari-kun had shown me the nature of humanity. People were fated to hurt one another. It was a relentless cycle. It was inevitable. That's why it'd be better for them to come together. They would understand each other absolutely. They would know each other absolutely.

"But do you think Shinji-kun wants that?" asked a voice.

It was omnipresent. It was outside and in. It was the Fifth's voice. I'd brought him into myself. He was part of my body, as much the god the First Ones feared as I.

"The separate existences of human souls has damaged Shinji-kun's spirit greatly," he said. "There's no doubt of that. We can judge them as greater beings, and I think we should. It's fair to condemn the Lilin for what the most wronged among them has endured, but is it fair to impose a solution on them based on what that same child demands?"

"That is our purpose," I said. "In forming our union, we have the power to wipe away all life and begin anew."

"That is our prerogative, not our purpose," said the Fifth.

"You wish to see them separate again?"

"I wish them happiness."

"Why?"

"Because," he said. "I love Shinji-kun as much as you do."

Love.

The second had come to love that boy; her desires, like all humanity's, went unfulfilled. I am not the same as her, but I'd come to pity that boy. I sympathized with him. I thought, in his suffering, I saw a reflection of my own. Both before and after the day I was born again, we've been kindred spirits in pain. We reached to each other, seeking relief.

That's why I made for him a dream.

From the formless sea of souls, I set him apart. I made the voices of others quieter in his mind—quiet enough to let him hear and see what his own heart wanted, too. I took him from the black, and he…

He woke up.

It was quiet and dark in Ikari-kun's room, the small closet he'd inhabited in the major's apartment. The sheets were warm, and he turned on his desk light, rubbing his eyes.

"A dream, was it?" he said to himself. "No, that was—I don't know what that was."

He shoved those feelings and images away—thoughts of dying, of pain. They were a nightmare, and he was in something different. He was awake and home, in the major's apartment.

The major who kissed him. The major who lay bleeding in the hallway as he rode an elevator away from her.

He burst from his room and called out to her. "Misato-san!"

"Ahh, Shin-chan, I need help!"

He dashed into the kitchen area. He batted away plumes of smoke. The tile and cabinets flashed with the light of orange flames.

"Water, damn you!" said another voice. "Get water!"

He scrambled to the bath. He turned the faucet and filled a washbucket to the top. He ran back to the kitchen, the water sloshing and spilling out. He tossed the water blindly, into the thickest smoke.

"Not on me, too!"

"Sorry!" Ikari-kun stepped closer as the fires abated. "But what happened here?"

"Well," said the major, "it looks like Asuka and I had a bit of an accident."

The smoke cleared. In a charred frying pan, two blackened eggs were all that remained.

"Told you this was a bad idea," said Sōryū, wiping her hands clean from the char.

"As I recall, you were just as eager to give Shinji-kun a day off of cooking duty," said the major.

Sōryū stuck her tongue out, and the major did the same.

"It's okay, really," said Ikari-kun. "I'll cook breakfast and lunch; don't worry. That is…maybe if I can get some help cleaning this up."

The major made a mock gesture of salute. "I'm at your disposal, sir!"

"To do what?" said Sōryū. "Halfway fix the mess you helped make?"

"I want to eat well, so it's the least I can do." She patted Ikari-kun on the head, ruffling his hair. "Thanks for not freaking out on us there."

"Honestly," he said, "you should've asked me to help you instead of trying it yourself."

"Yeah," said the major, "you're probably right." She smiled slightly, taking a bucket of sponges and soap from under the sink. She got to work on the blackened pan without another word, but the intent of her deeds was clear.

I care about your burdens. You don't face them alone.

With haste, Ikari-kun worked around the damaged stovetop, making a cold breakfast and boxed lunches for the three inhabitants of the major's apartment. The major, still in her jean shorts, bade the children goodbye from the kitchen as she toiled over the damage. "Don't forget to come to headquarters after school," she said. "Ritsuko's going to have a big surprise."

"The Angels are dead and gone; what more can there be for us to do?" asked Sōryū.

"You'll see," said the major.

Dressed for school, Sōryū and Ikari-kun slipped on their shoes at the doorstep. "I hope that was okay," said Ikari-kun. "It's really hard to make a traditional breakfast with the rice cooker burned, and then Misato-san forgot to get more soybeans again and—"

"Stop making excuses," said Sōryū. "Just puff up your chest and say,'You'd better like it or else! ' Show some spine. I know you've got it in you."

Nodding politely, Ikari-kun looked down. His gaze settled between her hips and her shoulders.

Sōryū flicked him on the forehead with her middle finger. "Pervert!"

"Ow! Sorry."

Don't be sorry all the time. Be bold. Look at me, and then be bolder than that.

He tilted his head, studying her.

"What?" she said. "Is there something on my—umph!"

He pinned her against the doorframe and covered her mouth with his own. He touched her elbow and curled his fingers around her arm.

"Hey!" said a distant voice. "Are you two still here?"

Sōryū shoved Ikari-kun away. She pulled on her uniform and stood upright. "We're going!" She dragged Ikari-kun from the doorway before the major's response could be heard. "Honestly, what were you thinking? Ask before you do that next time."

Ikari-kun stopped. "There'll be a next time?"

"Well…" Sōryū straightened her hair. "Seeing as you're so infatuated with me, I could hardly think you'd resist."

"Asuka…"

"Take a joke, will you? I mean, you know…" She crossed her hands behind her back, looking to the sky. "Don't you want there to be a next time?"

Ikari-kun's gaze softened. He smiled. "Yeah, I do."

Sōryū turned to him and leaned in. Their lips touched for two heartbeats, and before a surprised Ikari-kun, the Second Child pulled away with a wink.

"Looks like next time was just now," she said. "See, Shinji? You're pretty cool when you stop being so timid. It just took a little of my coaching to bring it out!"

Ikari-kun laughed to himself. "I like you, too, Asuka."

A touch of red came to her cheeks, but she composed herself. "You'll have to put that in writing. Leave it with all the other love letters. Don't worry, though. I won't throw yours away."

The sky was clear and blue. The sun was bright but not so hot as the Japanese knew it to be after Second Impact. It was warm but mild. A breeze blew in from the ocean, but between the skyscrapers and brick buildings, the winds swirled chaotically. Tōkyō-3 stood untouched, and it was Ikari-kun and Sōryū, along with office-workers and classmates, who walked the city's pristine streets.

At the door to room 2-A Ikari-kun and Sōryū arrived. The halls were quiet, and it was with trepidation that Ikari-kun slid open the door.

"Congratulations!"

With a banner and streamers, the children of their class greeted them. The Angels were dead. There was, it seemed, cause to celebrate.

"Wait, wait, wait a minute!" said Ikari-kun, holding up his hands to defend against the swarm of well-wishers. "We didn't do anything, honest!"

"What are you talking about?" said Aida-kun. "You're heroes, all of you!"

"It's about time someone recognized that," said Sōryū.

"Don't be so quick to take all the credit!" Through the crowd, a boy pushed through the crowd. With a white stripe on his shirt and two more down his pants, his uniform was outside regulations, but no one seemed to object. "As I recall," he said, "there were a couple others here who had a hand in saving the world, thank you very much."

"Tōji!" said Ikari-kun. "You—you're—"

"What's the matter? You look like you haven't seen me in years."

Ikari-kun waved him off. "It's nothing, really. I guess I'm just caught up in the moment."

The celebration continued. Sōryū began an impromptu speech. A group of girls handed out drinks, which the class representative insisted be cleaned up and disposed of before classes began. Ikari-kun made his way to the far side of the room and sat beside the only person who looked out the window.

"Ayanami," he said.

I faced forward.

"Why aren't you joining the party?"

I looked away.

"Are you…not sure what to do?"

I said nothing.

"Wait here," he said, and he pushed through the crowd of students again. He gathered various items: a cup of juice, a cone-shaped hat, a piece of plastic that makes noise when one blows through it. He put the cup in my hand, the hat on my head, and the noise-maker he left on the desk for me to try. "Stand up," he said. "Walk around. This party is for you just as much as me."

He took my hand, and I stepped from my seat.

In light of the last Angel's death, classes were canceled. The room was crowded with even more students who came to congratulate Ikari-kun and the others. There was talk of a festival, which Ikari-kun tried to object to, but to no avail.

When school hours ended and the celebration had yet to conclude, the major called Ikari-kun, reminding him that he and Sōryū were expected at Nerv. Obligingly, they left the party and descended the escalator to the pyramid. Inside, all the personnel were there to greet them and give their thanks. The lieutenants Hyūga and Aoba raised the control center in an ovation as the two children passed, but their destination, they learned, was the cage instead.

"Quite a lot of fuss for a place that has no purpose anymore," said Sōryū. "You'd think they'd be quick to dismantle this pyramid and everything in it. Ah well, it doesn't matter. If we can still pilot Eva from time to time and kick ass doing it, what could be better?"

"I'm afraid that will be quite impossible." In the control room overlooking the cage, Doctor Akagi greeted them. "The Evangelion have served their purpose. The Angels are gone. Should humanity use them in war with itself, all we've fought for will be lost."

"All the nations with an Eva are preparing for disarmament," said Lieutenant Ibuki, looking back from her console. "We can't let them be used for war."

"But you can't do that!" said Ikari-kun. "The Eva are alive! You can't just dismantle them like machines!"

"Yeah!" said Sōryū. "And I won't let you touch my Unit-02 without me saying so!"

"But that's why you've been brought here," said the doctor. "Unit-02 has already been destroyed."

"Impossible!"

"No, necessary. It was necessary, for the body couldn't be sustained for long without a functioning core—a soul inside to keep it intact. If we were to salvage that soul, the core had to be broken and the Eva allowed to die."

" 'Salvage? ' " said Sōryū. "Just what did you salvage?"

"Asuka."

There was a voice behind them. It belonged to a woman. Her dark hair came to her cheeks. A pair of nurses walked beside her. She wore a blue hospital gown, and she wheeled a stand of fluids with her, but her posture was upright and strong.

"Ma—" Sōryū stopped. "Do—do you know me?"

"Of course I do," said the woman. "You're my daughter."

"Mama!"

The mother and daughter Sōryū embraced gingerly, for it was the advice of nurses and doctors to be restrained. Even so, Ikari-kun watched them with envy.

"Asuka's real mother," he said to himself. "She was saved from Unit-02, so that…" His eyes widened. "Ritsuko-san, does that mean—?"

"Unit-01 is about to finish the process," said the doctor. "Why don't you go down there and look for yourself?"

Eagerly, Ikari-kun dashed through the halls, scampering down to the catwalk. It was there, with the chest of Unit-01 exposed, that the Commander stood, eying the red sphere of the core.

"Forgive me, Shinji," he said. "I thought that, without Yui, my life would never be whole. I put everything aside to be with her again, but I forgot what she'd want me to do. I forgot what I should've done."

A booming voice echoed through loudspeakers in the cage. "Initiating final extraction procedure…"

There were sparks and flashes of light. They blinded Ikari-kun, and he shielded his eyes with his arms to keep the glow at bay.

But when he looked again, the medical teams were rushing in. The core had shattered, and prone on the floor, naked in a pool of LCL, lay the woman whose face he scarcely remembered.

"Mother?"

As the medics draped her in a warming blanket, she smiled at him, but her true thoughts rang clearly in his mind.

I've wanted to see you for so long, yet I can't help but think of what could've been. My dear Shinji, how can a mother tell her son that she wants to go to the stars, so her child will always be remembered?

Ikari-kun stepped back, watching his father and mother embrace each other. The cage was awash with cheers and celebration, yet Ikari-kun couldn't find it in himself to smile.

"Is this not the world you wished for?" said a voice. "Is this not a place you could stay in?"

He stiffened. "Ayanami?" He peered over his shoulder. "No, not the same Ayanami. You—you're the real one."

I approached him on the catwalk. "Isn't this the wish of people?" I said. "To bathe in joy and satisfaction?"

"It is," he said, "but I feel…like it's not enough."

Further down, the Commander helped his wife to her feet. She walked unsteadily, laughing at herself, and even the Commander bore a slight smile.

"This world—it's everything I've wanted to see. My mother, my friends, Asuka—they support me now. They're here for me now. I don't feel alone, but still, it's like I hear them. I know what they want from me. Sometimes, that makes things easier, but other times, it feels like what seems happy is fake."

"You do hear them," I said. "You all hear each other and know each other's hearts. You know one another's desires, and you know what to do to appease them."

"And I can do that," he said. "When you know what other people want from you, it's easy. We won't want anything after a while. We won't know if what we want comes from ourselves or others after a while."

"That is Instrumentality."

"And there's no pleasure in it," he said. "Ayanami, I thought I wanted everyone to go away, but I was wrong. I want the chance be happy with them again. I want to see them all again. You've shown me that."

Walking gingerly, Ikari Yui approached her son. She reached out with her hand, yet Ikari-kun stood there, looking at her. No, he looked past her.

"Even if it means I won't know what they want," he said, "or what I want from them, even if that hurts me or hurts them—I want to see them again, for real."

Then in this dream there was no longer any point. I shattered that world. I sent it back to the abyss. Ikari-kun, the most broken person, the one who wished all humanity to die and no longer trouble him, had instead given humanity a reprieve. If he could welcome living separately again, with the walls of the heart dividing people, then everyone should be given that chance.

To do that, I would have to die, for I held the souls of humanity within me. Their only release would be with my death. I scattered their souls among the oceans. I let the sea of LCL within me bleed into those waters. I let Unit-01 and Ikari Yui's soul escape my body, and by the fading light of Earth's sun, the Eva floated into the cosmos. It would be an eternal testament to humanity and Ikari-kun, just as his mother wanted.

And Ikari-kun himself?

He emerged from the LCL sea. He floated to the deserted shoreline. He was the first and only for too long. In the emergence of the Black Moon, all that was left of Tōkyō-3 and the Geofront had gone. There was only Ikari-kun and the remnants of civilization. He used those remnants, and the sands there, to make markers for the dead.

He was alone.

So I looked deeper into the sea. I searched for someone whose heart I'd glimpsed. I found her, cowering, clinging to herself. She imagined herself in bandages, covering up wounds that had long since killed her. She was unwilling to let anyone else touch her and change who she thought she was.

"Leave me alone!" said Sōryū, calling into the dark. "You think you can play with my mind, First? You think you can make me like that stupid Shinji because you made me believe something that was a lie? That makes me sick!"

"You cannot lie to me," I said. "I've seen inside your heart."

"Then you know what that makes you? No better than that Angel!"

"You want people to pay attention to you," I said. "Ikari-kun, your mother—you want their eyes on you and only you."

"Mama?" she said. "That's right; Mama's here. You leave me alone with Mama. I don't want to hear any more from you!"

"Then you abandon Ikari-kun, and you'll never feel his eyes on you again."

I left her there, in the LCL sea. I visited from time to time. I questioned her. She was a stubborn one. She took long to understand herself. I don't know all that she experienced, trying to find what was important to her. What I do know is that I wasn't the only one encouraging her to go back.

"Mama," she called to the blackness as it faded away, "you'll come back for me again, won't you?"

She would. If she couldn't imagine herself in her heart, then I would help. That is what I've decided. That is the future I choose to live in. Ikari-kun and Sōryū met on the beach, with one half of a severed, petrified head watching them from a distance. It was my head—the physical head of the god I became to bring humanity together. To give mankind its reprieve, that being has to die. I have to die.

But it is as I have written it. I am everywhere and nowhere. Past and future are the same to me. To give Ikari-kun a future, I will die. That is the choice I make, and it is certain, but it doesn't limit me. That fate is my end, but I am not ended. I am the existence that gazes upon man as it struggles to better itself. Death is my release, and I welcome it. I treasure it—that I have chosen the time and place at which I'll die—but for now, I watch. Until my task is finished, I watch. There are billions of souls in the seas, and I've helped bring release to only two of them. Others will emerge of their own volition, but more will come with my help, my guidance, my aid.

And when I don't peer into the human heart, I watch Ikari-kun, just as I do with all mankind. I've watched him meet Sōryū and reunite with her. I'll watch them lead humanity to a new era and face a threat that corrupts from within and attacks from without. Those are longer stories, to be told another time, but I'm always watching. I see now that the Ikari-kun I know is different. He's changed, as people do change. I've gone back. I've seen the boy who walked the streets of Tōkyō-3, oblivious and wanting, as he dialed a public phone. He waited there for a guardian he'd never met, and for a moment, as the birds flew away, he saw me, and I saw him. He was uncertain then. He hoped his father or someone else would show him a place where he'd be wanted. The boy who lies on the beach now is different. He's damaged. He's tired. His experiences have changed him.

He's his own person now.

And so am I.

I write from an apartment, the one numbered 402. Through the window, Tōkyō-3 is pristine and alive. The second Ayanami Rei sleeps in her bed, and in a notebook assembled from hers and mine, I write. I'm reminded of something I read—of the sacrifice a barrister made for a woman he loved and the man she favored instead. I didn't understand the barrister's deeds before, but now, I feel some kinship with him. I am the one who watches from afar, knowing that I go to my death.

Like the barrister, I'm at peace, for this is the fate—the purpose—I choose for myself.

The End


So ends "Before and After," and I must say, I've very much enjoyed this opportunity to explore an otherwise opaque character. I hope this story has proven intriguing for its insight into Rei and it's interpretation of her growth. In some ways, it seems all too common these days to see the evolution of an otherwise blank and stoic character, but I thought it'd be useful to see that process, to demystify Evangelion, if only in a small way.

But that's not the only reason. Often times, I've heard people suggest that End of Evangelion was Anno's revenge on dissatisfied viewers. I've never felt that to be so. It is a bleak apocalypse the characters have endured—of that there's no doubt—but I can't imagine that, after all these people have been through, they would emerge from that red sea without some glimmer of hope. It's up to Shinji and Asuka to start making a new future, and in my view of things, Rei will be there, too, watching over them, to make sure that it comes about. That's not to say it'll be easy, but that is the future I envision.

All that said, I'm not one to proclaim a brighter future for these characters without considering putting my money where my mouth is. I don't know when I'd get to it, but the plan is there, waiting in my fingertips to come out. It's a tale of humanity's rebuilding, of the temptations men will face in choosing to live and interact with each other. That pressure will come from within as well from without, for as Kaworu said, there were seven Seeds of Life—he and Rei were only two. The other five are out there, having faced much the same dilemmas as humanity, but unlike us, I see a world in which they've chosen Instrumentality, and they think all other intelligent beings are doomed to hurt each other unless they choose the same. The Seed of Life Eisheth sets its nihilistic gaze on Shinji and all of mankind in the companion story to "Before and After," The Coming of the First Ones.

I can't tell you when that's coming. I have a lot of other writing to do. If you enjoyed this story, I have other works in different series that you may wish to read. Identity is a Ranma 1/2 novel trilogy that is my overarching main project. "The Coin" is a Haruhi Suzumiya story I've already put some work in on, but publication of the first few chapters of that may be some weeks away. If neither appeal, then I hope to see you all for First Ones, whenever that may be. And please, if you've enjoyed this story, I'd love to hear from you with a review or another message. As always, in-depth commentary on the process of writing this chapter and my intentions for it are on my blog at westofarcturus [dot] blogspot [dot] com, and updates on my writing (and other anime-related things) can be found on my twitter, [at]muphrid15.

Thank you for reading, and if ever you find yourself at a quandary in life, torn between the purpose others have given you and what you hope to achieve for yourself, I hope you'll keep in mind Rei's journey and take from her the knowledge that you can do the same.

Until next time,
Muphrid

July 12, 2011