He no longer saw the walls of the entry plug, the crippling pain of his arm and eye fading to a distant memory. His mind grappled with impossibility. He sat, on a fluffy cloud, his legs folded beneath him like a Bodhisattva. More clouds filled the horizon, as far as the eye could see, and above was the clearest, crispest, pre-dawn sky imaginable. Uncountable miles away a great sphere of flame rose up from the mist, out of pure, roiling chaos. The sunrise lit the clouds with gold fire, but he did not need to shade his eyes from the glare.
Am I dead?
Faster than he thought possible, the ball of light and warmth climbed higher and higher, until it halted above his head. He knew, rationally, that it was billions, trillions of miles away, but it felt so close, he could almost reach up and touch it...
And then it exploded.
The clouds spanning the horizon fled to the four winds, and looking down, he realized he was sitting at the very tip of a mountain peak, extending down below him for hundreds of miles. Carved into the sides was a city the likes of which he'd never seen, streets paved in shades of white, green and gold. Looking above, he saw the stars, even through the glare of the noonday sun, and in a glimpse, another city, through the veil of sky and space beyond. And from the sun itself, He emerged.
For a moment He was vaguely Draconian, shimmering scales of the purest yellow gold. As He grew closer, he looked more like a man, tall, broad-shouldered, clad in armor like Greeks or Romans he saw in history books. In his four arms he held a Spear, Shield, Branch and Horn. The god-being looked at the teenager, looked into him, through him, and more. He cocked his head to one side.
Are you just going to stand there and die? Roll over?
I am Ignis Divine, the Unconquered Sun, and you are now my Chosen. Go forth in my name, Lawgiver. I will be watching.
Suddenly the mountain, sky and sun were gone, and Shinji had the distinct sense of falling, but not into a black void.
And then Ikari Shinji woke up.
One of the bridge technicians shouted over to Ritsuko. "Syncrograph reversing, the flow is chaotic! The entry plug is being ejected!" The head of Project-E looked at the telemetry, the readings everything. Diagrams of neural activity, both the Evangelion's and pilots skewed wildly. Normally a sort of twisting helix, they spun and snarled. Ritsuko looked up at the Commander and Sub-Commander. Above, on one of the 'big board' holographic displays, hundreds of neuro-network connections split and went dark.
The scientist swallowed thickly, ashes in her mouth. "We're losing them both."
Misato grabbed up the nearest microphone. "Shinji-kun!"
His forehead burned, and all around him the walls of the entry plug were washed out to near absolute white. The butterfly controls cracked beneath his grip, the metal frame warping beneath his fingers. He couldn't see anything outside, couldn't feel it. That alien, doubled sensation had fled. So had the pain. In its place Shinji felt purpose, born of madness. Or maybe madness born of purpose. He couldn't think to define it.
He just had to make it happen.
Evangelion Unit-01 slumped forward, the armor shifting back to let the cylindrical entry plug emerge from the beast's spine. It all but exploded, a torrent of LCL spilling out, before the observers below ground could see what happened. A bare fist had punched clean through the alloy shell.
Tearing free of the plug, the pilot was a beacon of solar fire, bathing the city in an early dawn. Sachiel, completely unprepared for this, took a step back. Shinji slid down the shoulder, then the arm of the Evangelion, before striding up towards the Angel's near foot. The Angel was incapable of perceiving a mere human as a threat, having firmly established its opponents as those that flew and the slain Beast nearby.
The boy reared back, his strike telegraphed, relayed along a telephone, out on a secure land line straight to anyone watching.
His fist slammed into Sachiel's foot, and the appendage suffered catastrophic devastation. A great pillar of fire spiraling out from his head and back, a mandala of infinitely revolving circles spun out behind him, shifting and flowing into and through each other. Each etched in intricate details beyond that of any mortal craftsman. A thousand arms of glowing gold light waved like wings along the edges, hands folding into Buddhist and Hindu mudra and hand-signs. All of this cast in the brightest, purest gold Solar light, backed on the darkest, richest tones of night.
The Angel reared back, pulling its foot up to blink owlishly at the yard-wide crater in its toe. Blood and ichor slicked across the street before the wound scabbed over and began to regenerate.
Shinji, for his part, was unperturbed by the state of events. His fist remained extended, and his head never moved, but his eyes tracked the Angel as it took a step back.
Sachiel's response to the injury was to bring its healed foot down upon the child's head.
Fuyutsuki Kozou coughed politely. The old man for his part was playing the unflappable veteran to the hilt. Standing behind Ikari Gendo, he bypassed the obvious question. "You don't need to tell me. This is not part of the Scenario."
Gendo didn't bother confirming it. "Have we secured the video feeds, and scrubbed the main-access files?"
Fuyutsuki's response was reassuring. "As we speak. I have already initiated the Dawkins protocol. We'll need Akagi to assess how much processor footprint this will take up, but all simulations were within acceptable tolerances."
Gendo hrmmed. "Does Akagi have any ideas?"
The retired professor shook his head. "No. I believe she was mumbling to herself about Clarke's Law, and impossible possibilities."
"'Any sufficiently advanced technology?'" The Commander intoned.
"That's the one."
The two men looked at the monitors. As the battle progressed, they departed. It was a foregone conclusion. All according to the Scenario.
Ten stories down, beneath the concrete and asphalt of the Tokyo-3 city street, past utility conduit, maintenance tunnels, soil and rock, Shinji bowed against the First Armored Layer of the Geofront. Above him, Sachiel's foot pressed into his back with force capable of crushing a building flat. It would take more than that to break Shinji's iron skin. Dust and grit swirled in the tiny cavity around the boy's face, fumes that would've sent him choking were ignored. His chest expanded, and he pushed.
Sachiel's foot inched upward, slowly, inexorably. Even as the alien titan bore down upon the child, that unrelenting force could not be stopped. But for all of that, Shinji could only push so hard.
A great roar shook the city, more terrifying than any alien sound the Angel could have made. That roar punched a man in the gut, and long set-aside instincts of fear and magic sang out once more.
The Beast was here. The Beast was coming.
Sachiel stepped out of the pit, distorted double-mask blinking and shifting. It had heard the roar, but could not place it. Beneath him the glowing human was rising, against all odds... And the Beast was nowhere to be seen. Confronted by new and conflicting information, the creature's strange and alien biology worked to adapt. New neural tissue formed within, and as it gained further and further capacity for rational and abstract thought, it slowly began to understand its purpose, strategy and tactics.
This was its downfall. Sachiel was too busy thinking to remember the human was somehow a threat.
His bangs shifted in the breeze caused by the great Angel's own bulk, having forced his way out of the pit and onto fresh, strong ground, Shinji set his stance. Center of gravity low, hips cocked and arms at the ready. It was an honest art, a warrior's art, forged in a time forever lost. A gladiator's style, glorious and heroic. And the boy was a hero. He didn't know it that morning when he woke up, or when he first sat in the chair of that machine behind him.
But now, facing down this monster, he knew. Just as he knew the name of his action, his will and power given form and focus. Words flitted through his mind like sunbeams, symbols that baffled his education and teased his imagination.
Sachiel brought its massive foot down once more, to crush the impossible and continue on with its mission. Shinji only had one whispered response to that, in a language that never existed.
"Heaven. Thunder. Hammer."
On what many would call the 'Bridge', holographic screens showed the impossible. Katsuragi Misato was pale, Ritsuko had long since taken leave of her consciousness. Ibuki Maya, Aoba Shigeru and Hyuga Makoto were standing at rapt attention. The Commander and Sub Commander were nowhere to be seen. All throughout NERV, employees and technicians were in awe of their saviors.
Sachiel flew dozens of yards before slamming into something solid. That alien intelligence searched for threats, obstacles between it and its goals. The Third Child burned within a column of gold fire. The aura reached up into the air for miles, bathing the streets of Tokyo-3 in sunlight.
A strange, skin-crawling sensation prickled over its cthonic flesh, and it began to peel and boil, like a bad burn. A flickering orange hexagon appeared in mid-air, along with a snap-crackle of altered space and the smell of ozone. Twisting, even as its skin began to loose cohesion, Sachiel turned to look upon the face of death.
With one glowing eye, the reactivated Evangelion Unit-01 loomed over the Third Angel.
The carnage and explosion that followed sent Shinji flying into a building nearly half a mile away.