AN from the future: Okay, so, due to some... stuff... that happened (it's a really long and embarrassing story)... the first chapter of this story got lost, and then it took a few months before I could find the original version. So, um, yeah. Here it is. The original, slightly-edited-in-a-few-places pilot episode of Burning Vengeance, in all its eye-gouging, mind-breaking, utterly craptastic glory. (I promise the fic gets better near the end)

A nine-year-old Shinji Ikari sat on a lonely swing set in a playground after school; it was nearing dusk. Any normal child would've gone home with their parents long past, but Shinji had no parents to speak of. His father had abandoned him, and his mother…

"Mother… why did you have to leave me?" Shinji asked, not really expecting an answer.

"Dunno, kid. Tough to say, knowing as little about it as I do. But if you're up for a deal, then… I can probably bring her back to you."

Shinji, teary-eyed but with a confused-yet-hopeful expression, asked, "W-what do you mean, mister?"

A fellow in his early twenties sat sprawled out on a bench, wearing a black trench coat with scarlet tribal designs on the back and arms that reminded Shinji of both fire and (for some reason) spiders, dark pants, and had a black-and-scarlet cane in his hand. He had dark hair and pale eyes, and replied, "I mean what I said. If you're willing to make a deal with me, then I can most likely bring your mother back from the dead. So long as I can find her soul and have access to raw materials – which are almost painfully easy to obtain, I might add – I can create a duplicate her body and reanimate it via her soul. It's a simple process, for one such as myself."

Still confused, and now a little afraid, Shinji asked, "W-who are you? And what do you want from me?"

The stranger chuckled a bit and extravagantly replied, "Who am I? WHO AM I? I'M THE KING OF HELL, DAMMIT! … No, actually, I'm not. I just do that to make people react because I think it's hilarious. I'm really just the master of an extradimensional realm that merely LOOKS like a Christian concept of Hell. But for the sake of brevity, I'm going to call it Hell anyway. But enough of that. To answer your questions, I suppose my name is technically Mephisto now, but I prefer using my previous name, Cliff. And what contrary to what you might be thinking, I actually genuinely want to help you out. But, there are certain rules, which say that I can't do anything for you without something in return. So, I'm willing to make a trade with you. In exchange for your soul, I'll do my absolute best to bring back your mother, and you'll have the power to keep her safe until she dies naturally. That's fair, isn't it?"

Shinji, jumping at the prospect of getting his mother back, leapt to his feet and demanded, "It's a deal! Just tell me what I have to do!"

Cliff produced a sheet of paper and a pen, and replied, "I'm going to need you to sign this contract. But unlike my predecessor, I'm going to read aloud the contract to you so that you know what you're getting into. If at any point you have a question, feel free to ask once I'm finished."

Then, clearing his throat, the demon lord explained the terms of the contract.

"By signing this contract, Shinji Ikari enters into a business relationship with the current Mephisto, who will resurrect the signer's mother in exchange for the payment of the signer's soul and the promise of limited servitude as the Ghost Rider for an undetermined amount of time. As the Ghost Rider, it will be your sworn duty to protect and avenge the innocent by punishing the wicked, and also to defend against and fend off demonic invasions. At night, and/or in the presence of evil, you will transform into the Ghost Rider; a transformation which, at first, will be excruciatingly painful, but you will soon get used to. Also, while the Ghost Rider, your personality will be somewhat altered; your anger and aggression will be dramatically greater than usual, and as a side effect, you'll tend to be quite brutal compared to your normal self. However, in addition to becoming incredibly badass as the Ghost Rider, you will gain the following powers to help you achieve your duties, which include but are not limited to:

The ability to project and manipulate hellfire by means of streaming it from your hands, unleashing bolts, or exhalation; optional invisibility to human eyes; your strength and endurance will be an order of magnitudes higher than any mortal human; you will become nigh invulnerable against non-mystical weapons, and even then, you will be less vulnerable than humans or the majority of demons. You will be immune to any sort of attack that requires the target to have a soul, because you have none, and fire – natural or otherwise – will revitalize you, rather than hurt you. You will be able to transform any transport vehicle of your choice by imbuing it with hellfire as the Ghost Rider; this vehicle will be capable of defying standard laws of physics. Your greatest power, however, is the Penance Stare, which causes someone to suffer every cruelty they've ever inflicted through the eyes of the victim, and sends their soul to Hell at the same time.

Finally, there is one last power, which you shouldn't ever actually need to use, called 'Retribution'. This ability channels all of the suffering and pain on the planet into you at once, increasing your power to a level that, quite frankly, is ridiculous. But you can only use it once per week, and the longer you go without using it, the longer it will last when you need it. And if you try to use it too much, you'll just end up feeling drained of energy and suffer terrible nightmares for the next couple of days."

Taking a chance to finally catch his breath, Cliff asked, "Now then, are there any questions?"

Shinji, his mind reeling from the vast amount of information that had just been imparted to him, simply requested, "Say that again, but only the really important parts, and say it simpler, please."

Cliff cracked his neck and explained, "Okay then, in a nutshell: You sign the paper. I bring your mother back from the dead. You're Hell's bounty hunter for as long as I need you. Capiche?"

Shinji, for the first time in his young life, leapt without looking, grabbed the pen, and signed his name on the dotted line that Cliff pointed to. After the written signature was complete, the child's finger was pricked, and a drop of blood fell at the end of the line, causing a wave of translucent scarlet runes to ripple through the contract.

And then Cliff harshly tapped his cane on the ground, as if commanding someone to appear. An ominous wind began howling through the now-moonlit streets, and the demonic overlord's brow creased in frustration.

"How peculiar – I can't find her soul. Beings of my level can detect and retrieve human souls regardless of where they've gone after death, but I can't locate your mother."

Just as Shinji was about to start crying and call the 'Hell King' a liar, the second Mephisto simply grinned as he said, "Bingo. If I can't find your mother's soul in any of the potential afterlives, then that means that she must still be on Earth. Yes, that's it exactly. I can't trace her exact location, but that doesn't matter right now. I don't need the soul right here in order to revive someone, I merely require that it be in the same plane of existence. It'll be tricky, and I'll have to think a fair ways outside of the box, but I can at least do a partial resurrection, by crafting a body out of the elements I need, and then creating a different sort of metaphysical bond between it and the soul."

With a cheshire grin, Mephisto turned to Shinji and said, "Go home, kid. Unlike my predecessor, I fulfill the spirit of the contract, rather than the exact wording. Rest assured, I'll have your mother back from the dead – if asleep – when you wake up. Cross my heart, hope to die."

Despite the terrifying smile, Shinji could see in the demon's eyes that he was telling the truth, and so went home, trusting him.

One of the factors that brought Shinji to consciousness was the fact that he was warmer than usual.

Another was the vague feeling of an odd, though not unpleasant, pressure being applied on him.

Gradually opening his eyes, Shinji was shocked wide awake to find his mother sleeping partially on top of him, a serene smile on her angelic face, breathing softly.

Mephisto, observing from a window across the street, grinned. "Enjoy it while you can, kiddo. Before long, it'll be time for you to uphold your end of The Deal."