Grim. Grim and dark.

There is another word for such a state.

And that word is... noir.

The wind is the sound of a radio turned to a dead frequency, its touch is like that of knife cutting through cheap salami. The sky is such a dull shade of red, it's nearly viscous. It's as if one can reach out and make a slurry out of the pale pink clouds that float in it. The feel of the ocean air is like dripping mucus. There is a beach, and at the edge of it, the waters licking at the hem of his black pants and shoeless ankles, is a boy. Let's say about fourteen years of age, ethnically Japanese but at this point, and the weirdness in his genetics, that no longer means anything. He lies face-up, seemingly sleeping.

The waters are red, not like blood, but the broken dreams of Communism.


Other than the steady roll of the waves, there is only a bleak and blissful silence. He is so used to the everpresent scent of rotting meat that his mind tunes it out. In the darkness behind his eyes, time ceases. But suddenly, he gasps-

He opens his eyes and flicks quick frantic looks from side to side. Having slept the peace of the dead but dreaming, he is shaken rudely out of his repose. Where is that strange voice coming from? Who could be breaking the silence within his graveyard of a world? He is dazed and confused.

"No, I'm not. Asuka, Who else can it be? It's not like I'm going to forget your voice."

He speaks to himself. There is no one around him. Isolation does strange things to people. Man is not an island.

Unless you're Ayanami, in which case you woman; you're a continent.

Ikari, Shinji, Child the Third, object under observation, groans and puts his arms over his face. The darkness behind his eyes is colder than the airless void. The warmth of his own flesh pressing against his eyes blooms stars.

"What is this now?" he moans. "Are you going to keep on narrating everything I do? I'm not doing anything."

It is easy to be all-knowing, he supposes, when there is only so much that might merit attention. He's very familiar with... Langley-Sohryu's boredom. She'd already judged him, and punished him, to both their satisfaction. Any more would just be redundant to his continued suffering. Hell, it is said, was other people. There is no heaven in solitude. Only silence. Only oblivion. Only pain.

For what is mere agony of the flesh? To a being such as him, for all his undeserved power, the torment of regret is suffering that could never be broken.

This is the natural environment of the Shinjicus Ikaricus Inepticus. Wallowing in pathetic self-pity.

He lifts his foreams off his face for a moment, looking as if he might offer protest. He doesn't.

"I'm sorry."

The boy's been saying sorry all through his life, but never had it done any good. It's a habit that he just can't break. When did being sorry make anything right? Being able to recognize one's own failures is first step to being forgiven. But in this bleak, barren world.. that still has trees for some reason but no functional animal ecosystem... there is no one who could absolve him of his sins. As a person, a man, a son, a father. There's nothing left. Only him.

"What do you expect me to do?" he cries out. "Instrumentality's doing fine. I can't.. won't... tear people out of the paradise they've made for themselves. They're safe there."

Shinjicus Ineptus is also Homo Apotheosis, due to no real effort on his own part. It's just luck. Absurd luck.

But that's just how the universe trolls.

In this artificial habitat, the solitary Shinji only has his own senses to define his existence. The pain does not diminish. It is carefully cultured, watered by memory. He doesn't wish that he can forget. He is not allowed to forget.

"But this isn't a pain, Asuka, it's just annoying." he whines. "Eventually even you'd run out of something to say."

That deeply scares him, for though the voice brings back his pain, it is a delightful pain. Her presence makes his heart swell with happiness, but cut by the jagged reminder that she can never again be with him. It is not the first time that this had happened. There was a time when, though utterly alone, he tried to make his life purposeful. Interesting. Worthy of commentary. He tried to rebuild the world with his own two hands.

It ended in abject failure, of course, but at least the idiot tried.

No one returned. Instrumentality was something separate, but he was by accident its single relic, its guardian and vessel.

He can feel tears moistening his shirt sleeves. How long since Third Impact? Ten years? A hundred? A thousand? He moves his arm aside to look out across the beach, to the gargantuan corpse misty in the distance. Ayanami's empty red-eyed gaze stares back at him. The corpse, though rotting from within, would not visibly decay. As long as he had an awareness of it, the monument to Third Impact would persist.

Sometimes, he wishes that Lillith-Ayanami's corpse had landed face-up instead. Not only would this have saved him from that dead, condemning gaze and its mocking smile, he wonders what it would be like, if the artful curve of her country-sized breasts pointed up at the sky. He'd never bothered to go over there and change her position, because seeing her bloody insides would destroy the illusion. In the trauma of Third Impact, he'd called for Kaworu, and how would it have changed to have him embody Third Impact? There is a tightening in his pa-

"No. Just... no." Shinji groans. "All right, that's it. I'm ignoring you now."

But of course, that isn't so simple. He is a masochist at heart. If the Asuka in his mind ever wanted to cause him sweet pain, then he'd let her off without a safeword. All his life, he reflects, he'd been dominated by women. More regret, if only he'd been a little bit more courageous in his deviancy to ask them to dominate him a bit more openly.

"That's not true and you know- no. Still ignoring youuu...'

The problem with omniscience is that everything is true on some level, even the lies. In fact, by speaking lies they can become the truth. Right? Right.

"Nnngh." Shinji presses his palms to his ears.


There is an old question: Can God create a rock so heavy that even He can't lift it? Simple. Of course, yes. All He had to do is to turn off His omnipotence for a while. After all, doing nothing is also part of being able to do everything. If Shinji really wants the narration to stop, it is dead simple to do so.

But of course, he wouldn't. He could never deny Asuka anything.

Even if she is starting to piss him off again.

He'd almost forgotten that she was really good at that.

Asuka. Asuka. Asukaaaa... nananananana Asukaaah!

There is no background jingle. Damn you Adam West. It turns off. It turns off right goddamn now. He can sense she is starting to get angry. If she could just take physical form, she would be kicking him for being boring and pathetic. For wasting every single opportunity granted to him. Not any more! If he screws this up, she would never forgive him!

"Asuka, it's my fault. It can't be made right. Forgiveness is..."

Like Pow! To the kisser. To the moon!

Ssh! Look! A wild portal appears! A pale-green glowing oval appears in mid-air, near his feet.


Shinji pulls his head up slightly to look at it. He doesn't know what it is.

Fascinating. He tilts his head slightly to the side, puppy-like, in lieu of raising an eyebrow. It is a coruscating disk of green light. Somehow he knows that it came from the outside. It would be simple enough to re-assert his region of absolute territory and to trap himself in his misery forever. He could just imagine that Asuka's foot was stomping over his face again and again for even entertaining thoughts of such sheer idiocy.

It would take him far away. This thing before him fills him with such terror as he hadn't felt for so long.

He sits up and slowly begins to crawl away from it. Not because he fears harm or evil at the other end, but because it threatens his comfortable sense of suffering. A status quo that is, ultimately, a gratification of the ego. Alone, he could suffer in his demented self-importance.

Ayanami's corpse blinks. It is amazing how a single gesture might convey 'You're a moron if you don't take this chance.'

From within the Well of Souls comes a cold, icy howl. It sounds suspiciously like ''get-out-of-here-you-stoopid-leetle-beetch.'

Shinji palms his face. He is used to being hated.

But he feels he can't just leave. Much as certain... aspects... may now be wanting to set him on fire from the inside, it's.. not that easy? Not for him. Didn't they understand? This is his everything! His life, his love, his home. He couldn't just abandon their memory. It would be disrespectful.

His heart feels like exploding, as if there's a star about to nova inside, but he... Could. Endure. It.

He takes deep gasping breaths that he doesn't need, and shivers from a cold wind that can't harm him.

He doesn't think he deserves to be happy. Evangelion, somewhere out in the universe, his mother had thought it would prove that mankind existed. He laughs at that. What a pitiful memorial. His body, his unearned unholy power, keeping mankind's home pristine at the very moment they left it, that was a much more fitting monument. Even as the sun cools, even as the stars wink out. Against any fool who might try to claim this world as their own. It is his body. The oceans are his blood, its continents are his flesh.

So what's Ayanami's corpse then? Your-... his dutch wife?

He just sighs, feeling so cold and weak. He kneels down to pick up a handful of sand. These grains were soaked with his anguish when he lost the last of his family. He refuses to escape even his last, pathetic responsibility. He would not run away again. He'd made sure, short of crippling himself, that he could never run away again.

Loneliness does strange things to a man. A human with no one else to interact with, starts to talk to himself just to hear the sound of a human voice. Without companionship with other humans, someone can forget what it means to be human. Without the voice, without the use of reason, without the community, a human regresses back into the crude animal that he is.

Being lonely is so terrible that even he must cling to this last remnant of being a part of something greater. In this pathetic way he can be alone and still vaguely feel a part of human society.

But a being such as him has no free will! To say that he chooses to become a caretaker? What a joke!

He is a pathetic shriveling worm. Mankind would be ashamed to be remembered by such a thing,

Shinji grits his teeth. He has no pride left. He would not be moved by fear, or hatred, or promises, or ambition. He who has nothing left needed nothing more.

But there is something else, a voice, so innocent and in need.


It's far away but it's real.


For him.

Such a useless thing such as a him. A thing that can only destroy. A failure as a human being.


Only for him. He is needed. This is important. The dead need nothing.

He has to listen!

Other worlds.

Living worlds.

"I beg of you-! My slave who lives somewhere in the cosmos!"

A slave? No, wait, that doesn't sound good. Although... given what is recorded about Shinjicus Ineptus' fetishes, is understandable too. We must observe. For science.

He isn't hearing anything.

He's shut everything out.

He's asking a question only he can answer.

There is a spirit within him that never got the chance to become light. He opens his hand and looks at his fingers, the tips twitching slightly, as if he is handling an impossibly fragile, impossibly precious thing. Sand dribbles down, each grain a missed moment.

What sort of world is this to raise a child?

The pain of regret. If only... there was someone he could share such discovery with, to show the world and all its wonders. The world itself would renew under unjaded attention. A mind, new and ever-curious, shaping itself. He had chained himself to the memory of the departed generations, but what is he doing for the last, shining child of man? Is her memory not as precious?

That he could feel regret at all is at least a sign that he is not a psychopath. He is weak, this he recognizes, but he is at least sure he is not his father. There is evil in mankind, but his sin is stupidity. Too late had he come to realize that the ones he loved meant more than anything.

It's so painful to be alone. He started off as just a kid, without any training, thrown into a war zone. Then, over the course of a year, he had to watch every single person he's ever managed to care about die in front of him. Every adult around him was useless! Every single time he tried to be a hero, it seems the universe punishes such effrontery. Dammit, that it took that long for him to break is the surprise. That he's the only one that manages to survive it all is the most bitter of ironies.

Everything that he touches dies.

He looks up towards a pair of small graves. He shambles over and begins to dig at the ground with his bare hands.

Genocide. Everybody dies. Extinction. The end of history. If his fractured mind could actually perceive and accept what that really means, the winds would never stop echoing his screaming.

It is easy to achieve a state of zen, of disassociation, of non-self. The line between a grandmaster and a slave was often quite thin at times. His fingers are cut and scraped as he savagely attacks the ground, but no pain reaches his brain. Soon enough he has uncovered three meters deep of soil. Carefully, he reveals a skeleton clad in a worn red bodysuit, lying on its side. Tattered string of red hair still remain. It cradles a smaller skeleton, little more than a hand in size. Shinji began to shake uncontrollably. Slowly, he reaches out, towards the remains of a child that never had a chance.

His shoulders ache, like poisoned claws are tearing his back open. The weight of that tiny skull is immeasurable.

Carrying it would be a far greater burden than anything he'd ever done before.

Possibilities churn inside his head, multiple lifetimes lived and discarded in an instant. The voices of billions, hundreds of billions, weigh in. He sits, silent, lost in the terror of a new day.

He is the last of humankind, and the last Angel. His is the unused stolen potential.

He however may not spend an eternity trying to decide. The chance flees. The perception of time may only be delayed for so long. He has to decide!

He was a child then, he's still a child now. He never had the chance to mature, and he never will in this damned "wonderland". The deck is rigged, but it's the only game in town.

He puts the skull to his chest, just below his ribcage, and pushes in.

It sinks into his flesh, and his blood begins to drain into it. Tendrils reach out, clutching and entwining with his nervous system.

The pain is excruciating, but ultimately all too brief.

A small blood-red sphere, a core of hope, now is part of his essence. New memories, new feelings; he feels as if an observer in his own skin. There is more than just the old feeling of being watched. He feels a strange gnawing hunger. He bares his teeth, his incisors lengthening slightly. He cannot live for himself, but in some small part perhaps he could pretend to do so for someone else, living their life for them.

The turbulence in the Well of Souls subsides.

Shinji closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He would carry his obligation, and his family, wherever he may be forced to go. He can dimly discern from a distance, that Asuka is both a disgusted and a little bit touched. He is off to explore new worlds, new civilizations, carrying her grinning skull under his arm. It's not like he'd ever managed to give her a proper honeymoon.

Ayanami is jealous.

News at six.


Surrogate of Zero




Once upon a time, in the magical land of Helkegenia.

There lived a pink-haired girl named Louise Francoise de Valliere. She stood proud and tall, despite her undeveloped stature, as she cast the spell that would prove she was a mage worthy of respect. She waved her wand and made the chant. A glowing pentagon appeared on the ground.

Which then exploded.

Now. She stands wobbly on her feet, her brain feeling like swamp water.

She wants to cry, and shout, and throw a tantrum like a little child. Again with the explosions. Always with the explosions. Every single spell, ending in failure. Her knees fail her, and she collapses, drained of willpower. It was over. Her mother would never forgive her. How could such a useless daughter have come from Karin the Heavy Wind's womb? Already she can hear her classmates begin to jeer -

There is a faint whump; from something, or someone, falling and landing on his face like a dumbass. There is a weak "Owww..."

Suddenly, the taunting stops. Their pitiless amusement turns into confused murmurs. Louise looks up to see that as the smoke clears over the ruined summoning circle, there is someone there. A person, clutching something white and round under his left arm, and trying to push off the ground with his right. Slowly, shakily, he rises.

He looks as confused as she is. Louise had prayed for anything to appear in her summoning circle, to prove her existence as a mage, but certainly did not expect a lanky young teenager dressed in a plain white shirt over loose black pants. In return, what he is seeing is someone who doesn't seem out of her teenage years yet, with wide curious eyes and long wavy pink hair. Underneath a black cloak with a round brass pin etched with a pentagram, she wears a white blouse and a gray pleated skirt.

They are a strange pair, motionless there in a pose half-kneeling. They are nearly the same height, but couldn't be more unlike each other. And yet, on some level communicated by their eyes, they feel a connection, a strange sympathy. There is a spark leaping in the air between them, which a more ignorant mind might think is the tingle of love at first sight.

Louise leans forward and looks at his face more closely. He flinches back. The strange boy has an otherwise nondescript face, but with slanting eyes that she had never seen before. A foreigner, certainly. As the other students realize what they were seeing, the mocking laughter returns.

The boy looks left, then right, then up. He blinks owlishly as his deprived senses tries to readjust. The feel of the warm sun upon his skin, the rustle of wind through trees, and the beauty of life all around him is intense, even painful. He takes a deep breath.

Louise frowns. "Who are you?" And then "Gyah!" as she came face to face with a human skull as the boy stands straight up and adjusts his clutch of his eerie trinket. She leaps back, her wand held straight out.

"I don't think you can keep on trying to describe everything in present tense." the newcomer says offhand, to no one in particular.

Louise blinks, but not lowering her wand. "... huh?"

It is common fact that no event can be perceived at the very instant it appears. There is always some delay before it may enter the sensory apparatus of the observer. Only omniscience may allow such perception, but perfect knowledge of an object undergoing an event is to be the said object. All knowledge must be imperfect, for there to be division between beings. Also, because Shinji Ikari only has the illusion of experiencing things in realtime. Everyone else gets to pause and review and send in their commentary.

This is known as limited third person.

Shinji Ikari had better be grateful he can't hear the useless advice the others are saying.

"Oh, right. Still ignoring you."

"Don't ignore me!" shrieks Louise. "How dare you!"

"A commoner!" someone one is shouting with malicious glee. "Louise summoned a crazy commoner!"

The boy blinks, the confusion in his eyes beginning to clear. "Who are you?" Louise asks again, louder, and waving her wand near his face.

A dark cloud passes overhead, a chill draft slides across the courtyard, and he answers. "Um. Hello? I mean... um, I'm Ikari Shinji." Sensing that he wasn't being helpful, he adds. "Shinji being my first name, Ikari being my last name."

"Hmf. Weird name. And where are you from, commoner?"

Shinji blinks. "Commoner?" He winces and clutches at his head. It's so weird to hear real sounds again.

Looking around, he sees others dressed in the same style as the girl disturbingly close to him. Any other person in the same planet was disturbing. So many people. He begins to quiver. He can feel the light of their souls, and finds through contrast that he didn't even have one anymore. His essence is just a big metaphysical void, where nothing other than itself is allowed to exist. Okay, fine, technically that's what a soul IS, the AT-field pattern that contains and preserves identity, but it lacks that unique quality that allows us to call something a 'living soul'. He compresses his awareness, his being, and forces himself to think of something else.

"What do you mean, I'm a commoner?"

"Can you do magic? You don't look wealthy, your clothes are too bland. So, you're a commoner." Louise replies with bland resignation. "I couldn't have summoned a noble, it doesn't work like that."

Her mind even recoils from the concept. The enhanced abilities and intellect of a familiar comes from the mage, thus why familiars are treated more than pets but as an extension of its master. Magic to her culture is the gift from God, the justification for nobility; for a noble to enslave another noble through the familiar summoning rite, would be a blasphemy of the highest order. Therefore, she easily concludes, it is impossible.

A crowd of black-clad people are standing around examining Shinji Ikari. They are garbed much the same way as Louise, maybe it is a uniform of some sort? Out in the distance is a large stone castle, distinctly European with its round turrets and crenelations. There are also animals and beasts standing behind the humans, and some of them he can only tentatively call 'monsters'. They don't seem hostile though. There is more understanding in those feral eyes than the glittering haughtiness in the students.

'This place... it isn't heaven or hell, but it could be either.'
Shinji thought, while shading his eyes from the sun with his palms. 'It's too bright. It burns.'

On the outside, it looks like he is cowering. "Louise, what were you thinking, calling a commoner with 'Summon Servant'?" someone asks, and everyone but one starts to laugh. That someone has short cheek-length blue hair, more intent on her book, whom Shinji is fortunate not to have noticed, otherwise he'd be screaming right now.

"I... I just made a little mistake!" the girl in front of Shinji shouts in a very insistent voice, melodious like a bell to his ears for its earnest embarrassment. "What mistake are you talking about? Nothing unusual happened."

"Nothing unusual she says! Of course! After all, she's Louise the Zero!" someone else said, and the crowd burst into laughter again.

'So her name is Louise.' Shinji ponders. Of course, he knows that already if he's lying about being able to ignore the narration, but he doesn't exactly trust the narrator. He is sure the transcript would feed him no end of bad information if it would lead up to something hilarious and humiliating.

Whatever place he's in, it's far too warm and comfortable, like a fantasy. As if the typical medievalist trapping aren't enough of a hint. It is repulsive to him. He wants to dig into the ground, and let cold silence embrace him again. Being scrutinized by a semi-hostile audience is nothing to him, and it is the girl who seemed to be the focus of this emotional torment. She is being bullied in front of him, and the boy just doesn't know what to feel about that.

"Mr. Colbert!" the pink-haired girl shouts desperately.

The crowd parts, revealing a balding middle-aged man garbed in a long black robe and carrying a gnarled wooden staff. He looked ridiculous, but something else is starting to intrude upon Shinji's senses. It is like an itching at the back of his head, an insistent presence, like a crab trying to make a burrow out of his hair. It is coming from the people around him, bouncing off as a bat's echo, and the man has a much stronger presence. He wonders if this meant the force of personality. It is a very distinct feeling, completely unlike that of an AT-field.

A surreptitiously cast Detect Magic spell slides off him, without his knowledge. He doesn't even feel the slightest prickling.

He still doesn't understand, but a bit of curiosity makes him decide to stay quiet and let the scenario play out. The girl named Louise seems to be in a panic, begging to redo something and gesticulating frantically. He feels somewhat sorry for her, recognizing how mortifying it was to be put on the spot.

"What is it that you want from me, Miss Vallière?" asked the robed man in a weary tone, knowing exactly just what it is that was being required of him.

"Please! Let me try the summoning one more time!"

'Summoning? They mentioned it earlier.'

Mr. Colbert, the man wearing the black robe, shakes his bald, bald head. Your helpful guide just cannot articulate its shiny baldness anymore, other than the wisps of hair remaining around his shiny head-dome just pathetically brings even more attention to its sheer... holy crap, this guy is bald.

"I cannot allow that, Miss Vallière."

"Why not?"

"It is strictly forbidden. When you are promoted to a second year student, you must summon a familiar, which is what you just did."

'A familiar? What's that?' Shinji blinks. 'Hey. This isn't Japanese they're speaking.' Then both figuratively and literally, he shrugs it off. Being able to understand any and all languages every spoken, sung, or written by a human being was an unexpected but not surprising sudden gift. He could at least be grateful for not having to rely on subtitles. Jerk. 'Familiar. Hmm. Something that's been encountered before? Something common or easily recognized?'

That's an adjective. A familiar, as a noun, is demon or other supernatural entity that assists a witch or practitioner of magic, usually taking the form of a small animal. They add bonuses to a caster's abilities and may have special powers. Familiars gain additional abilities as their master gains in levels. They usually require a day to prepare for the summon and 100 GP worth of materials.

Shinji Ikari makes a pained moan.

"Your elemental specialty is decided by the familiar that you summon." Colbert, apparently a teacher, continues. "It reveals your element and serves to ground your magic. You cannot change the familiar once you have summoned it, because the Springtime Familiar Summoning is a sacred rite. Whether you like it or not, you have no choice but to take him."

"But... I've never heard of having a commoner as a familiar!"

Everyone around hoots with hilarity. Louise scowls at them, but the laughter doesn't stop. She keeps herself from saying or doing anything more. If anything, seeing her so angry would only fuel their amusement. Shinji knows that apathy took all the fun out of it. That girl is so open with her emotions, that even in his reduced state Shinji feels it would be a shame to break her spirit.

'How long has it been?' A few minutes, and the signs are already clear. Not even he could possibly fail to grasp such a blatant display. Peer pressure is such a trifling pain, but it's not too different from how he had been broken.

That train of thought is digging up things best left buried, though. He forces his brain back into the present with 'Springtime Familiar Summoning? How would that bring me here?' It is clear that wherever he's now, he'd not been moved here by his own power or volition. However, anything that could rip him loose from the death of everything could only be pretty damn powerful.

He doesn't have much self-respect, but he is certain he is worth more than just 100 GP!

He's actually taking that seriously. What a liar. Being talked about, what ego could resist paying attention to that?

"Ngh. Okay. From now on… seriously." Shinji whispers. "Not listening."

"This is a tradition, Miss Vallière. I cannot allow any exceptions; he," the middle-aged wizard points at Shinji, "may be a commoner, but as long as he was summoned by you, he must be your familiar. Never in... recorded... history has a human been summoned as a familiar, but the Springtime Familiar Summoning takes precedence over every rule. In other words, there is no other way around it: he must become your familiar."

"You have got to be joking..." Louise droops in disappointment.

'You have got to be joking.' Shinji moans some more, his sleepy face not betraying his internal turmoil. 'You seriously can't expect me to believe... her? This is all just an accident?'

On one hand, it means that fate or some arbitrary power was still more powerful than beings that could weave a new pattern into the fabric of the universe. Something more powerful than him. On the other hand, it means that he is, once again, its buttmonkey. On the gripping hand, his protective shell of apathy is starting to crack! He starts to raise a hand. "Um, excuse me..."

He is ignored. He waves his hands, to no avail. His needs and opinions are unimportant.

"Well then, continue with the ceremony."

"With him?"

"Yes, with him." Mr. Colbert replies with an exasperated sigh. "Hurry. The next class will begin any minute. How much more time is this summoning going to take? After mistake upon mistake, you have finally managed to summon him. Hurry and form a contract." Everyone else begins to make noises for Louise to hurry up.

Louse stares at his face, clearly troubled.

"Aaah..." Shinji tries to ask 'excuse me, but what the hell?'

"Hey," Louise turns around, in a brisk military manner and addresses him, her chin up in the air.

"... yes?"

"You should count yourself lucky. Normally you'd go your whole life without a noble doing this to you."

Shinji blinks again. He was born middle-class, and egalitarian to the end. A part of him took dark amusement in that death must come to all people, rich or poor, weak and the mighty. His life is... was... even a testament to the abuse of power.

Louise closes her eyes with an air of resignation. She waves around the wooden stick in her hand.

"My name is Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière. Pentagon of the Five Elemental Powers; bless this humble being, and make him my familiar." She chants those words over and over, clearly a magic spell what with the glowing motes of light forming around them both, and touches Shinji's forehead with the stick. She licks her lips and leans closer.

"Wa-what are you doing?"

"Hold still!"

He struggles. His face twists in panic. All of this is opening up a whole lost of repressed trauma.

"Ah, geez! I told you to stay still!" Louise grabs Shinji's face roughly with both hands. Exactly like what he had experienced before. Aheh. Yeah... that whole 'do you want to kiss me' trick that Asuka Langley-Sohryu pulled. Oops? As their faces draw closer fear hammers into the Shinji's chest. Guilt. Intimacy is terror. To care is to hurt!

She kisses him, just a touch, but she blushes as she pulls away. The boy looks at her with unmistakable sheer horror. She frowns at that.

"Hey! A commoner like you should feel grateful that I even dared to go that far. If it wasn't so necessary, I'd... bah!" She gets up and flicks at her long flowing hair. "You're my familiar now, understand?"

Shinji is still trying to recover from a panic attack. He wheezes, clutching at his chest. "Not really, no."

"You have failed 'Summon Servant' many times, but you have managed to succeed with 'Contract Servant' in one try," Colbert says happily.

"It's just because he's only a commoner." says someone from the crowd.

"If he was a powerful magical beast, she wouldn't have been able to make a contract." Some of the students sycophantically laughed.

Louise scowls at them. "Don't make fun of me! Even I do things right once in a while!"

"Truly 'once in a while', Louise the Zero," sneers back a girl with gorgeous curly hair and freckles on her face.

'Servant.' The word echoes in Shinji's mind. 'Fine. I deserve this much.' It's not like it's something outside his meager set of skills. He has no pride that would be wounded from just something like that. A social contract that has him under someone's power, now that is something he could deal with.

He, who has no ambitions, no dreams for the future, ended up being the one last free man. He needs, desperately, the structure offered by being ordered around. Clearly, he supposes, he could not be trusted with any authority, any power, ever.

This is good. He feel a slight smile starting to appear on his face. This is very good.

Heck, if he plays his cards right, he might even be subject to physical abuse. Lucky!

Shinji loses his smile abruptly.

"Um. Excuse me? This is a bad idea. A really bad idea. Can we just- ah!" Pain! He clutches at his arm. Burning green marks glow out from the back of his left hand. "Rrrrghh...!"

Had her familiar been ruder or more outspoken, Louise would have dismissed any discomfort he felt. "Don't worry, it's just the Familiar's Runes being inscribed." Her impatience is tinged with some concern. "It should be over quickly."

It burns, so much that Shinji wants to roll around in pain like a worm on damp soil. Shinji sucks at the back of his hand, as if trying to drain a snakebite. Green light streams out from under his fingers, and he smells a tang of ozone. The pain is just about unbearable, but after a few more seconds, it fades. Even the memory of it recedes. Shinji stands up straight and looks at the brand-new tattoo at the back of his hand.

"Huh." That was weird, even for him. He turns to Louise and shows her the markings. "What does this do?"

Mr. Colbert approaches and grabs at the hand. "That was quick. Hmm... these are some very unusual runes."

Shinji stares at the back of his hand. He felt as if he'd been branded, like a cow ready for the slaughter. He feel some indignation rise, but not for himself. His right hand goes over to his chest, to rub the red marble under his shirt. He is, of course, still holding on to a human skull by the jawbone. Mr, Colbert grimaces, having forgotten about that, and lets go of Shinji's hand.

"Is this permanent, sir?"

The teacher nods. "Sadly, yes. But don't worry too much, young man. It's not all bad." He opens his mouth to ask, 'Why are you doing with a human skull?', then reconsiders. No, perhaps it is better to pretend everything's just routine. He turns back to the gathered crowd. "Well, that's it. Back to class everyone."

That said, he turns on his heel and floats upward. The rest of the students likewise rise into the air. Shinji watches them go, still gingerly rubbing at the back of his hand. Some of the departing students left parting taunts about Louise not even managing levitation. Shinji turns to see the pink-haired girl quivering, with rage or just about to cry, he doesn't know.

He sighs. "I'm not much good at this." he mutters.

Left by themselves in the courtyard, Louise looks up at her summon and churlishly asks "What are you?"

Shinji smiles weakly. "Um... a human?"

"Yes, well... what sort of human? What can you do? Do you have any special powers? Who are you, really?"

Shinji hesitates here. "I... don't know. I'm no one special really." Ahahahaha. Idiot. This is going to come back and bite you in the ass. Idiot.

Louise throws her hands into the air. "Whyy? I wanted to have something wicked like a dragon or a griffin or a manticore. At least an eagle or an owl. Why does my familiar have to be so useless?"

"Um... sorry, but what does being a familiar mean? I was... somewhere else, and now I'm here, so why?"

Louise turned and gives him a flat look. "At least you're not that dense. Aren't you at all concerned about being spirited away?"

Shinji shrugs. "There wasn't really anything left for me back... over there. So, how did you do it? And, um, why me?"

"It wasn't supposed to be you! It's supposed to be ANYTHING but you!"

"Um, okay, so this sort of thing isn't the usual then?"

"I've never heard of anyone else summoning a commoner as a familiar. Animal familiars get special abilities or add to the talent of their masters, but you don't even have any magic! How's that supposed to help me?" She groans and palms her face. "An animal familiar would also have been easier to carry, to deal with. I only have to worry about feeding it!" Louise, due to her middle sister's animal-loving influence, was at least good with getting along with dumb animals.

'So it isn't deliberate human slavery, at least.' Then again, that teacher didn't even hesitate. He insisted that his student strip a human being of his freedom and live as an accessory to a mage. Already Shinji is getting a lot of unpleasant implications about the society he was trapped in, but to be honest- he really doesn't give much of a damn about justice either.

"Can't you just try again?" he asks, trying to make sense of the mechanics of it all.

"No! The contract has been confirmed! The Summoning is a sacred rite for mages. The only way for me to get a new familiar is if my old familiar is destroyed." She squints beadily at him. "And I know you don't want that."

Shinji raises his hands in surrender, which caused Louise to flinch back and avoid being randomly smacked in the face by the back of a skull. "So. Magic, huh?"

Yes. Either this is magic or some very in-depth and very perverted cosplay.

He looks around at the lavish, sculpted grounds reminiscent of medieval paintings. "This is something of a school, then?"

"All right, I don't know what backwoods you came from, but it's fine. I will explain it to you." Louise gestures around. "This is Tristain! Glorious Tristania! And this is the renowned Tristain Academy of Magic!" She pointed to herself. "I'm a second year student, Louise de La Vallière. I am your master from now on. Remember that!"

Shinji raises his hand. "Valiey-ru.. veli... Miss Louise, a question?" No -sama, -dono, -san, or whatever other suffixes for you! Everything gets romanized. Damn kanji. Stupid damn rassem frassem honorifics. None of that shit here. I won't allow it!

"Go ahead."

"Okay, I'll accept that this is a magic school." There is no rule that said the afterlife or his purgatory or whatever new hellish reality was pulled into had to make any sort of sense, as far as he is aware. "But, second year? How old are you?"

Louise sputters out "How- how rude! But I'll have you know that I, Louise de la Vallière, am seventeen years of age."

Shinji nods. "Ah." He doesn't look convinced.

"You... you insolent dog! You were thinking -things-, weren't you?"

"I was actually impressed, thinking you were a prodigy or something."

"Silence!" As she had expected, she is again being dismissed for her physical stature. It hurt, even though he could not have known about her lack of magical ability and how much that reduced her stature even more among her peers. "And what about you?" Louise glances down and blanches at the skull that Shinji was still holding. "Ugh! Is that real? Get rid of that thing!"

Shinji frowns slightly. "I refuse."

That was uncommonly quick and decisive.

"Didn't you hear me, commoner? That is an order!"

Shinji ponders his options. He supposes Asuka is likely to be made angry by any disrespect to her remains. However, other than sentimentality, that it was her actual skull meant nothing; like all others of humanity she is now an atemporal being. He feels that Asuka had no objections to the arrangement, but it is a test, isn't it? Which does he value more, the memory of his wife or the commands of his new mistress?

It should be no contest. If it was Asuka in his place, he had a feeling her main problem would be keeping her wrists from wrapping around the uppity little noble's neck and squeezing until the arrogant little snot's head pops. He can deal with that sort of random bitchiness and oh fuck you Ikari. But, isn't he also under obligation to move out from the shadow of the past?

His nostrils flares out a bit, as he realizes that subtle scent- is the distinctive odor of fear. Though Louise looked defiant, everything in her manner communicated such a loaded mixture of despair, disbelief, and dread.

He slowly puts his weight over foot in front, and sees that subtly, Louise is unconsciously shifting back in response. She is afraid of him. How novel.

"Are you afraid?" he asked. He raised Asuka' skull to let Louise stare at its empty sockets. "All things must die. We will all, one day, turn to dust. Are you afraid of being reminded of your mortality?" He nudged the skull closer. "Please don't be afraid. I won't hurt you…" he said in a low, and what he hoped was a soothing tone.

No, you moron, you just sound like you want to rape her or something.

"Ugh! Get away!" Louise scrambles back. "Ew! Eurgh!"

"I like to be reminded that no one can master death. People need a dose of perspective."

"You... you're disgusting." Louise hissed. "I'm telling you, get rid of it, or... or... or I'll make you!" The young noble raises her wand, thinking that here has come a time when her tendency to cause explosions would be useful.

Shinji just smiles. Louise grits her teeth and lets her spell fly. Boom! His hand is engulfed by thick white smoke. Louise reflexively shields her face from the explosion with her wand-holding arm.

He is unmoved.

And of course Asuka, even at least her skull, would be indestructible.

As the wind blows away the smoke, the bare skull seems to exude a sense of unconquerable ferocious pride.

There is a certain power in lingering affection. A particularly creepy romantic gesture, but at least he made the attempt. Now Shinji just requires an excuse to explain why he just can't let go. Without going into a whole lot of 'none of your goddamn business ma'am'.

"She keeps me humble." says Shinji in a tone full of fondness. "I'm not afraid of death, my master. I think, someday, you will find it useful to be able to look at death like an old friend."

Louise has a strange look on her face, as if constipated. Her insides clench in a mixture of fear and revulsion. What had she done to deserve such a familiar as this? Much like Colbert, she just chooses to just ignore it all, repressing any hint of weakness, and try to keep her dignity. She turns around sharply and begins to walk towards the castle.

Shinji follows a few steps behind. He touches at his lips with the fingers of his left hand, then to the bare teeth of the skull.

'Asuka... she reminds me of you.' he whispers aside. 'A little of... Ayanami, I think. And me.' The crushing loneliness is familiar, but unlike Shinji, Louise didn't take the option of apathy. She has too much pride for that. 'I can't live for someone else. My own free will is the least of things I can give up, clearly I can't be trusted to decide things on my own.'

He has no epic quest, he has no expectations to fulfill. If he were anyone other than himself, it might even seem like a vacation. This terrifying freedom, he feels sick just thinking about it. He feel grateful to the arrogant little girl for his shackles. He is like someone who, having lived underground all his life, fears falling up and being swallowed by the endless sky.

A pathetic little girl is Louise La Valliere, and it is almost a pity that to have him around is to inevitably crush what little remains of her sanity. In many ways it is like looking at a distorted mirror. Shinji is resolved to help in what meager ways he is able.

Ahahaha, oh. Oh. Dammit. This can't possibly end well. Someone help me, I can't stop laughing. Shutup you assholes. Damn you all, I'm a ghost, why does my gut still hurt? A-agh.


Simpler is better.

Less angst, more fun.

Or rather, more angst, more mockery.


Anyway, why Shinji? Why keep using such a boring protagonist?

Would it have been more acceptable if it was Gendo as the protagonist?

... and which case, why?

The fact that the kid can still feel regret is a sure sign that he's not a psychopath. He's neurotic. That he's mentally weak is the whole point of the characterization; he's a normal kid with no training thrown into a warzone as a subversion of the standard protagonist.

There were points in the series that he was actually trying to be a typical shounen hero; such being absorbed by Leliel for one thing was from trying to act like Asuka. It's just that the entire story is designed to break this kid, mentally and spiritually. He's 'hated' for not being the typical hero that shrugs off emotional pain. Like it or not, NGE is a groundbreaking anime by daring to show how combat pressure causes trauma to conscripted child soldiers.

That kid is a seething mass of self-hatred that manifests in his berserker state that wants to destroy everything. It's not just Unit 01; since he was roaring fully conscious in the fight against Zeruel before he ran out of power.

There are those among us who find it interesting, the realism applied to a stock character. Even Asuka, who acts closer to the hotblooded archetype, shows the mental problems inherent in defining one's self-worth around the ability to perform.

There are writers who use Shinji to give the kid a second chance, to examine what his personality would be like if the world wasn't designed to screw with him at every opportunity, to grow up and become a young man. It's just stupid fanon to think that Shinji is all about whining and being emo, like Akane is a violent bitch with no redeeming features. Screaming at Shinji to man up is missing the point; he's fourteen. He's scrawny and a bully magnet. As a typical 14-year old, he has no self-confidence, and now thrown into a war zone, he's constantly being ordered around and made to watch his friends die in front of him. Every adult he knows consistently fails him, since they too have their own issues. Everybody has issues. Dealing with it is part of what it means to be a social animal.

He's whiny, but even Amuro Ray was whiny once. He grew out of it to become the definitive badass of the Universal Century. The Children of Eva never got the chance.

He's actually got a valid reason to be such a moany little prick at the end, but Asuka would still snark at him anyway.

I think I actually started off wrong in PoF in trying to play up the eldritch horror angle. That's just a side-effect. The greater horror is intangible and comes from within.

Also because taking everything so seriously can sometimes be hilarious.