Chapter: 1B - Shinji runs away, seeking shelter

Choice Path: Start - 1B

Author: The Mustachioed Cat

Away! The word stuck in his mind, burning with the heat rising from his chest, and propelled Shinji across and down the street. The explosion had deafened him, and his mind was a tight and empty place except for that word. Away!

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(((Shinji Ikari)))
Str: 5 (male baseline)
Guts: 2 (not male baseline)
Sanity: 8 (five seconds ago was a solid 10)
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One block. Two. Six. More. The ground constantly shifting beneath him, his feet and arms momentarily abandoning their petty differences to work together because all of Shinji Ikari had all gotten a good look at the thing that was making the earth move. The monster.

He finally collapsed when the sound of nothing melted into a liquid roar, loud enough to crowd out even Away! His arms and legs, to their credit, managed to pull Shinji off the sidewalk and into the shade beneath a store awning before they fled back into the safety and comfort of non-sentience.

The boy rolled his body up into a sitting position. Could just barely think through the angry mass of hate in his head. The ground was still shaking, but less so. Meant. Meant. Something good. Everything hurt. Thinking hurt.

But. I. Got. Away, he managed to tell himself through the pain. Maybe he even said it aloud, but everything was all smoke-strangled and a high ringing tone. He sat, arms wrapped around head, as the shuddering in the earth diminished, and then stopped altogether.

The word was almost in his head. Safe. Hard to form, but the edges were peeking out of all that stuffy burn were his brain was supposed to be. Saaaaaaf--

The street exploded.

The next thing Shinji knew was a broken ceiling, through which he could see a fattening yellow moon. He was pushed up in an awkward roll, head flat against shoulder. Neck felt ready to snap as he unfolded and got to his feet.

His shoes were gone, along with half the buttons on his new uniform shirt. No cuts or bumps. Still plenty of hurt, but the roar in his head was gone.

He couldn't make out much by moonlight, but seemed to be pretty well confined to an area maybe two tatami mats wide by a barrier of broken furniture, glass and ruined electronics. The ceiling was three, maybe four meters overhead.

Hello! he shouted, wincing as the word gouged into either side of his head. Could not actually hear his voice, just feel the pain it caused. Maybe he would just stay quiet. The monster could still be around.

He tried to climb out - it seemed only slightly less stupid than waiting in the dark for the monster to come crashing down on his head a third time - but every time Shinji put any amount of weight on any portion of the wall, the whole mass would shudder. The cement floor seemed the only stationary thing upon which he could lay hands. So he sat down and tried to just enjoy being alive for a while. Tried not to think about monsters, so much.

His luggage and backpack had been discarded during his failed attempt to escape. His clothes, school books, the astronomy posters teacher had given him as a going away present - all gone. Everything he owned, crushed or burnt to nothing. But Father's letter and the ID papers that had arrived with it were gone too - that was something of a relief.

The only thing Shinji had managed to hang on to was the picture of the person that was supposed to have met him at the train station. He pulled the picture out and placed it on the floor between his splayed legs. The plastic was reflective, so he was basically looking down at the moon rather than at a pretty woman leaning forward suggestively over the hood of a blue car. Didn't matter. The picture was pointless. The woman, Father, NERV - that monster could have smashed them all by now. And even if Father was okay, Shinji had no way of reaching him. The woman hadn't bothered to show up for whatever reason, and he no longer had the ID papers from NERV.

Shinji picked up the picture. Who was she supposed to be, anyway? Every night since the package arrived he had wondered about that, and eventually narrowed his range of speculation down to either 'stepmother-to-be' or 'guardian.' Either way, Shinji found himself actually disliking the woman in the picture, now. Maybe it was because of the embarrassing photo. Maybe it was because she worked with or for Father. Or maybe it was because she hadn't been at the fucking train station!

He tore the picture in half. Tore the two pieces into smaller pieces, then hid them in an opening in the wall. Whatever obligation he had felt to any of the people in his life had shattered apart the moment they had all conspired to confirm Shinji's suspicion that the world was a painful, horrible place.

And now the letter, the ID papers, and the picture were gone. All gone. Now he was a nobody that nobody knew. He was free. The idea was... liberating.

It was in this state of mind that he remained - wondering at a future where he could be someone other than himself, and hating the people that had coaxed him into this monster-strewn hellscape - until low half-heard sounds started drifting down from above: whispered tears of air and a low organic throb Shinji could not quite place. The debris had begun to shift, too.

Rescue workers, maybe? Shinji inclined his head, inspecting the night sky for any sign of searchlights, or any other source of illumination that was not sickly sallow and stationary overhead. But there was nothing. Shouldn't there be people out here by now? The low rumble of heavy equipment? Shouldn't the sky be stained pink with the metropolitan light of New Odawara?

Nothing but him and the moon, and the shifting, tearing sounds that were growing in intensity. Whatever was making those noises had no problem moving around in nothing but moonlight... there! A small thing, moving low against a plank that crossed the gap in the ceiling. The moon was at its back, yellow light seeming to eat into the tentative silhouette.

Fuzz, Shinji realized as the creature moved. It walked on two legs, and was covered in fuzz. Some strange animal. A monkey?

The boy remained perfectly still. Monkeys were diseased. They had teeth. No point in getting its attention...

The fuzzy creature stumbled off the plank and fell into the hole with Shinji. The boy reached out without thinking, and managed to catch the fuzzy thing right before it would have hit the cement. The creature let out a screech and bit one of his fingers. Shinji threw it against the far side of the pit and stood, leaning against the wall with one foot raised, ready to smash the little bastard thing if it crossed into the puddle of moonlight between them.

The thing continued screeching, and overhead other screeches were sounding in return.

Monster. Shinji thought. Small, but somehow still a monster. The country was under attack. Could be... could be all sorts of monsters were invading. Orges and old gods and the angry dead, taking the shape of titanic black wraiths that had bone poking out of their bodies and... and maybe also the form of small furry creatures that only came out in moonlight. Small furry creatures that hunted in packs, like wolves.

Shinji tried to push away from the wall, to propel himself forward, to stamp down blindly in the furthest corner of the hole and smash the noisy thing to bits. Because his hearing was coming back, enough to distinguish that the sounds coming from overhead were deeper and louder than the tinny screeches of the creature that was already in the hole with him. Shinji did not want to see what a larger variation of the fuzzy thing looked like - probably a leathery beanbag teetering about on two stick legs, looking perfectly ridiculous until its body split open to reveal a mouth filled with long needle teeth...

Damn. He had scared himself off smashing the creature flat. Even if he still had shoes, Shinji wouldn't have been quick to pit rubber and canvas against needle-toothed monsters. His hands began exploring the wall, looking for something he could pry loose and smash the creature with.

Another tinny screech, this time from overhead. Shinji looked up in time to see another small body plummet into the hole.

He panicked. Pressed himself further into the wall, got his hands up over his head. In his mind the thing was unzipped itself in mid-flight, ready to latch on and subtract bits of him with its snapping needlemouth.

The creature bounced off his shoulder - Shinji screamed - and tumbled to the ground and into the moonlight. It looked dirty and fragile. A black, shiny comma emerged from the highest point of its fuzzy body, crowned in a set of wicked horns that folded back into its flesh. The black comma parted, showing white, and a screech was emitted. The first creature emerged from the far side of the hole to join the first, in proximity and voice.

More screeches overhead. Another light weight, this time bouncing off the side of Shinji's face, leaving an angry line of burn from a tooth or claw, and a third fuzzbeast had joined the other two in the moonlight. Seeing the newest arrival in profile as it turned to nip one of the others, Shinji felt a surge of relief.

These were not needlemouthed flesheating monsters. At all.

Each creature had a lemon-shaped body and a long neck. The black comma Shinji had seen before, which his mind had labelled as a scorpion-stinger/mouth, was actually a beak. The horns that folded into fuzz were an illusion created by a ridge of beak and muscle that ran between the creature's two beady black eyes, and nowhere in Shinji's spontaneous expertise on murderous nocturnal beasts was there a sinister explanation for the set of small, dull hooks of flesh that extended from either side of each creature's body.

Birds. Baby birds. Ducklings, like.

Shinji let out a laugh he could just barely hear. Beanbags with teeth. And he had been going to smash one of them!

The three ducklings crowded toward him, but remained in the pool of moonlight, their beaks opened in a constant stream of high-pitched peeps. Recognizing the sound as something other than the reports of a pack of hunter/killer monsters, Shinji managed a smile. Even though he was still trapped in dark, and monsters were real.

Where are your parents? Shinji asked the ducklings. Did they see the monster and fly away?

Another light weight on the very top of Shinji's head. The new duckling shifted its weight, then hopped down to its brethren.

How many are you? the boy babbled, leaning to one side and looking up.

Something was sticking out over the edge of the hole. Not a baby duck. No, this was all neck, bobbing and curving, and for a moment Shinji was absolutely certain he was looking at a venomous snake, getting ready to plunge after the food it had been chasing.

Three more ducklings hopped into the hole, and the long neck honked at them. The ducklings - how many of them were there now? - peeped back.

The moon was partially obscured by a flaring wing, and suddenly something huge was rushing down the hole. Shinji turned away, was buffeted with feathers. When he looked back, a black and gray goose was in the moonlight. The baby geese had gathered behind it. The large bird inspected Shinji with a turned head, single eye shining, before turning and charging at him.

Shinji bounced back against the wall and lashed out reflexively with his legs. Managed to catch the animal right where neck attached to body. The goose circled back to the far side of the hole, interpolating its hiss with a series of loud honks, directed upward.

More baby geese... what did you call them? seemed to rain down on Shinji. What was happening? What? WHAT?

Another adult goose swooped down. Its webbed feet hit the arm Shinji had thrown protectively over his face, a talon catching in his skin and ripping a new line of hot pain into him. The second goose landed amongst the baby geese - was gosling the word? - and joined the other in hissing at Shinji.

The boy pressed against the wall again, and, again, tried to find some bit of debris that would serve as a weapon. But apparently the building that had collapsed all around him had been built out of glass and balsa wood. Everything he touched either snapped with the slightest pressure or did its best to slice his skin open.

The momentary but fruitless reprieve ended when one of the goslings decided to waddle up to and perch on Shinji's sock-clad foot. The two geese surged forward, wings flaring, pushing the smaller creature aside and biting into Shinji's leg. The boy howled in pain, which drove geese and gosling alike back to the other side of the hole. The smaller fowl began burrowing into the wall, squeezing into the uncertain spaces beyond the hole. The adult geese continued to hiss at Shinji and flare their wings.

When another batch of goslings rained down, Shinji risked a look up. Long black necks were crowding into the hole on all sides.

Go away! he screamed, despite the pain it carved into his head. The heads retracted as one, but edged back into the opening just as quickly. Another two goslings tumbled out of the gathering darkness.

Shinji sank into a sitting position, hands up around his face in case the geese came at him again. He just needed to be quiet and still. Maybe they would forget he was there. Maybe the geese above would move away and stop unknowingly funneling their spawn into the pit.

A shadow plugged the light. Shinji closed his eyes and tried his best to cover himself. Another goose was coming down.

It landed on him as the previous one had. Two talons dug into his scalp, more lines of pain, and then the goose dipped down and bit into Shinji's ear. The boy screamed and pushed out, hitting the creature in the chest and knocking it down beside him.

More pain. Felt like part of his ear was gone! Stupid animals!

Shinji...

3B - refused to run away a second time. (Go to ch 6)

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