Stage XVII: After
As Langley's blood-drenched hands dragged Shinji away from Ashford Academy, his mind blanked out. First, an Angel had dropped out of the air without his being summoned by Nerv. Then, after almost a half hour of mass panic in the Settlement, a half-wrecked Burai crashed into Ashford Academy, dislodging a half-insane Asuka Langley, breathing through a coattail and dripping blood everywhere she walked—not her own blood, apparently. Now, instead of heading to Nerv, they were racing away to the city's edge. He did not believe Langley capable of running in the face of battle, and apparently she hadn't. The Burai's energy filler was nearly depleted when it stopped in front of the opening to an Evangelion launch pad. Slowly, Langley let go of the controls.
"Um, milady, what exactly are we doing?" Shinji asked tentatively. She did not answer. The stench of bodily fluids made the Burai dank. Ironically, the girl that was raised in corsets and floor-length dresses didn't mind a filthy room as much as the lowly former laborer. The cockpit block slid open.
"Get out," she said. The Burai knelt, and its energy filler died. For several minutes, Shinji waited at the foot of the Knightmare, but she did not appear. Then, suddenly, she charged out of the cockpit like a madwoman, tripped and fell from the Burai's back. His body almost moving on its own, Shinji found himself underneath her. She was shaking, breathing hard, and spat out an apparently chewed-to-bits wad of cloth. Underneath the ragged coat, her own blood was seeping through a piece of bandage on her side. Her pupils were shrunken to the size of peas, her hair ragged. Suddenly, her hand shot up and grabbed Shinji by the throat. He was lifted off the ground, feet kicking as her fingers strangled the life out of him. As suddenly as it begun, it ended as the girl switched to using his shirtfront and a handlebar, and not his windpipe.
"If…I know that woman," she whispered hoarsely. "She will send the Evas out this way. I've killed enough Disturbers for the launch system to run. This pad, it's out of range of the Disturbers. Get in your machine when it arrives, and you better not get in my way."
Gone were the trappings of high society, politeness, the genteel mask of a lady. She was haunted, an animal cornered by a tiger, her cubs huddling under her. The Evangelion launch shaft ground open.
Zero's hand clenched his forehead. A severe migraine was an understatement; the slow roasting of his brain was a more apt description. The Angel was crying out everywhere, looking for something. His Geass wavered into a faraway mirage under the otherworldly creature's godlike mind. Abruptly, he stormed from the command center, into his office onboard, shut the door, and shrieked in agony. It was drilling into his skull, blinding his Geass eye. Tears broke off the contact lens. As he stumbled into the bathroom, he looked up. His eye was alight with a vermillion shine.
Hairline cracks raced along the surface of the glass. The vermillion glow bounced back, and his head exploded in a blinding light. Unconscious, Zero, Lelouch li Britannia, Lelouch Lamprouge, Nunnally's older brother, a student of Ashford Academy, a Britannian schoolboy, someone, something, a shadow upon the fabric of time, crumpled.
The pain faded. The being lying on the floor faded into a relieved sleep, in the comfortable blackness of eternal night, like a babe in the womb.
The command car rumbled, bounced off of the ground, and overturned as giant shockwaves liquefied the surface. Surprised Black Knights members fell into heaps on top of one another as something red shot past, took off from the ground and disappeared into the clouds. Moments later, the Lancelot tumbled away, spinning, and a corner of the Angel dipped out of its cloud cover. C.C. found a pair of binoculars. Her senses were ablaze with two minds in the air, as opposed to the single Angel. The first was, of course, the Angel, in its mighty serenity, seeking something indescribable. The second was…incomprehensible—less clear than the Angel's, to C.C. Its goal was clear—to protect something within itself, to lash out, but what C.C. could not understand was the pure amount of affection that emanated from the roaring beast atop the Angel, tearing its flesh into shreds and digging through the body with one of the Angel's own severed limbs. If one could formulate an analogy, it would be that of a raging mother bear.
"Odd," she said. The Angel crashed into a hillside, glowing octagons firing from the Evangelion on its back. The side of the hill was instantly wiped clean by the force of the impact. The pair struck the side of the multilayered Settlement, ripping the city asunder, as if it was built from cardboard and not solid metal and concrete. It was difficult to follow the Evangelion, but it was discernible as Unit 02 from the coloring. Then, it stopped. The battery had probably run dry.
"Well, that's not good," she said casually. Perhaps she will use this break in the action to check on Lelouch, whom she knew to be in a critical condition, but honestly, what she was observing was too interesting. She felt a bit of sympathy for her collaborator, but not all that much. An eternal witch risked an eternity of pain for bonding with mortal humans.
It wasn't working.
Asuka Langley threw her fists against the controls of Unit 02, bellowing for her power to come back. What was the use of a machine that cost enough to bankrupt a country, if it didn't even work past a minute? The LCL was cloying, thick and dank from her body. Desperate, she tore the handles back and forth, hard-trained muscles pumping away without restraint.
A loud crack and the handles broke loose. Her head shot forwards, struck the enclosed seat, and her forehead spewed its own blood to join the mix.
"Fucking…cheap…piece…of…shit…" she whispered.
Another one joined the rest. It sped up. A dot appeared in her field of view, grew into a rippling pool, burst into violet-and-red light. There was a bird, a sharp-winged, strange creature, and she was in a yellow summer dress, standing in a garden. An impossibly gigantic figure towered over her, holding out its hand. The bird handed in it, nursing its sharply geometric wings. The little girl looked into the being's seven eyes, and smiled wide.
The figure smoothed back the girl's hair.
"Mama, let me see it!" she squealed.
"Do you want it, then?" the voice said in a faint echo.
"Do you want this power?"
The figure seemed to smile, though it had no mouth. It pinned the bird to the girl's hair. She giggled.
"Are you satisfied?"
Sound ceased to exist for a microsecond, or an eternity. The figure nodded.
"I see. That's good."
30 Days after the invasion of Nerv
From the balcony of Ashford Academy, Shinji stared, depressed out at the rainy sky. Unit 02's bent figure was still not removed from the city center, or, more precisely, the city's ragged remains. Langley was missing, still stuck in the Evangelion's Entry Plug. Expectations were low that she would survive for this long, unless the Eva was providing nutrition and waste extraction, which it has not been designed to do. The city itself was devastated. Even after her batteries ran dry, Unit 02 went berserk, tearing apart the Angel and then…
Shinji shuddered. She ate the Angel. It was a horrible scene. The Angel's legs poked futilely at Unit 02 while the Evangelion scraped the Angel's shell dry. The carnage's result was a city left devastated. Nerv was shuttered, the Evangelions locked down. On top of that, Lamprouge seems to have been injured. To get out of the way of his family matters, Shinji had removed himself. Ryoji Kaji, Langley's butler, gave him permission to stay at the country house where he and Langley had trained for their synchronized attack. He glanced back. His things were packed into three suitcases. Nunnally was at the hospital with her brother. There was no need for delay; the Nerv Section 2 agents sent to escort him were ready to lead him away.
Public outcry hadn't lasted long, but it was clear that people needed a scapegoat. With a sinking heart, Shinji realized that Langley would probably be the victim. It was too obvious; she, after all, had singlehandedly wrecked three quarters of the Settlement. It wasn't really her fault—Unit 02 had gone berserk, after all, but it didn't matter; no one would care.
Suddenly, the new-car smell that permeated every Nerv vehicle bothered him. He tried to crank down a window. It was locked, as expected. They were speeding past Unit 02. Her form was covered in a giant tarpaulin, and a circular area half a kilometer in radius was cordoned off. Shinji buried his face in his backpack of daily essentials. Classical rock drummed in his ear from the SDAT music player that he always carried. The month was lethargic, worrisome, and a little painful. He tried to understand what it was about Langley that made her so important to him, besides the obvious. Sure, beauty, if one was to throw a shallow reason out. Sexual attraction was a given. She was dependable in a fight, a good comrade to have. Despite what von Stuhl said about her, Shinji didn't feel much hostility from her end. Perhaps more would show if they were together more often than a measly few hours every few days. Shinji had to admit, he missed the girl.
C.C. lowered the brim of her hat. Lelouch was wrapped in a heavy blanket, propped up in his hospital bed.
"Well? Aren't you going to talk?"
He made an annoyed sound.
"You'll be pleased to know that your ability to use Geass has not been majorly compromised. However,"
She reached over and touched his head again.
"It will take a while to recover."
"I see," he said, glumly fingering the blanket.
"So, Lelouch, how are you feeling?" she asked.
"What about how I feel?" he asked sourly.
"Well, you are my accomplice," she said. "Why should I not care how you feel?"
He scratched his head, not speaking. After a few minutes, he found a relatively neutral subject.
"And how are the Black Knights doing without me?" he inquired. "Is everything proceeding according to plan?"
"Yes; the public believes that you were injured in battle, which in a way is true. Your subordinates were told that you had a hidden, undisclosed condition which led to your collapse, in addition to overwork."
He chuckled a little, breaking his stoically pessimistic mood.
"Funny; now that you mention it, I do feel a little over worked."
He flicked his hand dismissively.
"Perhaps I will take a vacation. Oh, and tell our cameraman to make sure that that video is properly leaked."
7 days later
The Entry Plug broke open. LCL rushed out, flooding the floor of the Cage. In the dim backup lighting, a slim figure drifted in the liquid left in the Plug. She was in a yellow dress, with a tiny origami bird pinned to her hair. As the Nerv hospital crew hurried the girl onto a stretcher, a contingent of Britannian Marines surrounded the cart. The girl was swiftly handcuffed over the loud protest of the doctors, and the soldiers formed ranks around the medical personnel.
"Lady Asuka Langley," Henry Langley said from beneath his military police uniform. "If you are indeed her, you will confirm your identity by silent acknowledgement."
A moment passed. The comatose girl stayed quiet. The man forced down a smile.
"Thank you. Lady Langley, Knight of Two of the Holy Britannian Empire, you are hereby charged with criminal negligence and misuse of the Evangelion resulting in complete destruction to the Tokyo Settlement, as well as death or injury of approximately two thousand, seven hundred Britannian citizens and a large number of Elevens. Your property is forfeit and will be auctioned to pay for the losses of your creditors. You are also charged with failure to comply with direct orders to abandon your Evangelion, insubordination and mutiny, and impediment of justice. Under Britannian law, in consideration of your achievements, you will not be tried as a minor."
He paused to catch his breath.
"Do you plead guilty or not guilty to the above charges? Silence acknowledges full guilt in this matter and indicates that you waive your right to an attorney."
LCL silently dripped onto the floor. The nurses squirmed behind the wall of burly Marines.
"In that case, you are hereby stripped of your rank and name, dishonorably discharged from the service of his Imperial Majesty Charles zi Britannia, and sentenced to death. The duty of executioner will be allotted to the highest ranking officer present."
He turned to the Marines.
"I am Henry of Langley, eldest son of the Archduke of Langley, heir to his Estates, senior nobleman of the Court, a member of Parliament and Lieutenant Major of the Military Police. Is there any here with higher rank than I?"
The men stayed silent. A soft breath escaped Asuka's mouth. Henry pulled out his service pistol.
"Very well; the cost of execution will be added to your account. Is there a final statement, Miss Asuka Soryu?"
A small cough; the girl smiled, as if in a dream.
"Ma…ma," she whispered. Henry snorted.
"Note down: the last statement of Asuka Soryu is: 'mama.'"
He raised the pistol to her forehead.
"We hereby commence the execution of Miss Asuka Soryu, daughter of the deceased Dr. Kyoko Zeppelin Soryu, PhD, MD, formerly known as Langley, on this day September twenty-first, in the two thousand and fifteenth year of our glorious Empire."
End Stage XVII