Touji stared at the unconscious form of Hikari, unsure of what to say or do. He'd been told of what had happened after he had died. By all accounts, the sleeping spell Hikari was under should have worn off long ago. Yet, the young Queen had yet to awaken.
Touji sat by her aide and after some hesitation, took one of her hands in his. That wasn't improper or anything, right?
"Hey..." he awkwardly said. "I'm back."
Her hand felt small and delicate in his. Warm too. It was reassuring, somewhat. At least it didn't feel dead.
She didn't react.
Touji stared at her for a moment.
He felt anger rising at the absurdity of the situation. He'd come back from the dead only to find the girl he loved like this?
"Damnit Hikari! Wake up already! I came back, so ya better keep yer promise!"
Frustrated, Touji went on, describing in detail what he intended to do after the kiss she's promised him. It was probably for the best that her mother wasn't around.
Still nothing. This girl was so infuriating!
Touji blinked. He felt Hikari's hand weakly squeeze his back, while her eyes fluttered open.
He stared at her speechless, before grabbing her small body in a fierce bone crushing hug.
Touji didn't know whether laugh or cry of joy.
An Evangelion inspired fantasy elsewhere story
Based on characters created by and copyright GAINAX
Co-written by Alain Gravel and Darren Demaine
Captain Jori's bad week was finally looking up. Being a pirate captain in the Zo Han - the Hateful Sails -- was not the easiest way to make a living, but he'd always accepted the harsh life of a pirate with what he felt was well deserved stoicism. The last week had tested that fortitude, but he felt stronger for the challenge.
He blamed a good part of his problems on that damn red-headed Captain Marika of the pirate ship Bentenmaru. Newly made captain, she had taken it upon herself to raid other buccaneers in total contradiction to proper pirate etiquette. He'd have thrown that red-headed bitch down and taught her a thing or two... if she hadn't scared most of the other pirate captains straight. In fact, the Bentenmaru had chased Captain Jori's own three-ship flotilla from the open sea and forced them to stay near their home base along the northern coast of Japan. And so they were stuck in the local area, away from profitable shipping lanes.
This did not make his crew happy, and dealing with unrest was never easy. Worse, the weather these past few days had turned nasty with the strangest storms appearing over the island of Japan. It had been witch weather, further unnerving his superstitious sailors. Finally a terrible storm had appeared just yesterday, a monstrous beast with red-tinged lightning, winds like banshees, and what looked like terrible spirits moaning in the cloud cover. In desperation Captain Jori had ordered his three ships to land, and then in the furiously swelling seas had all crew go ashore. Although he had told no one, he had been afraid to stay on the ships fearing the unnatural weather would take them to the bottom.
But now, dawn had broken on the following day. The storm that pounded them that night had vanished like a drunken dream. The sky was clear, the winds coming off the land were strong, and the crew had caught a few rabbits for breakfast. Things, Captain Jori decided, were looking up.
Things got even better when he spied a lone figure approaching along the beach. It was a young woman, only a few years into womanhood, who had wrapped herself in what looked like some cast-off curtain or sail. She was stunningly beautiful, with long red hair, bright blue eyes and a face to make a sailor weep with joy. She clutched the tattered fabric around her with one hand and loosely held a red-tinted sword in the other. She looked around somewhat confused, but still made towards Jori. Around them, pirates had noticed her and started to gawk or whistle, breakfast temporary forgotten.
Jori advanced towards the girl, giving her a bright grin. "Greetings, m'lady. You are a sight that only a sailor surrounded by salty dogs could truly appreciate." Damn, but that ratty old cloth she wore made it obvious she had nothing on underneath.
The girl looked around, but didn't reply. She took in the captain, the jeering sailors, and the three ships sitting peacefully at anchor. A strong wind pulled at their rigging, almost demanding they take to the open waters.
"Boys," Jori said loudly to his crew, "I think that our departure might be somewhat delayed." The sailors cheered. The girl turned back to look at him, and he thought he caught something in her eye, some soul-deep haunting that only made her more lovely, more precious.
"Are you the Captain?"
"I am indeed, m'lady. I am the first among the crew. In all matters."
"You will take me to the mainland," the girl said firmly. Jori laughed cruelly, and his men joined in. This red-head thought to give him orders? That red-headed Captain Marika had thought she could give him orders too! Well... Marika had given him orders... and then forced him to flee when he tried to refuse... but this girl - *this* red-head - would learn no one disrespected Captain Jori of the Zo Han.
"Maybe, pretty thing. Eventually, perhaps. But first, you'll have to pay the passage fee, and we pirates always share the spoils." He grinned without mirth, and his men cheered lewdly.
That grin froze however, when the girl grinned. And something in Captain Jori realized his luck had not gotten better.
*** 37 seconds later ***
Captain Jori was busy doing three things. The first was kowtowing. It was very important that this be done well. He had actually used his hands to scrape some of the uncomfortably warm beach sand and flecks of glass out of the way so he could press his forehead even lower.
The second thing was listening, very, very carefully. If this avatar of fire and death that had stumbled across them wanted anything, he was going to make damn sure he didn't miss it. It might upset this being, and from what he'd just seen that would end... poorly.
The third thing he was doing was willing his heart to stop, lest the noise from its beating somehow sound unpleasant to the avatar.
Behind the captain, and totally ignored by everyone was the collected crews of the three ships. They were also busy kowtowing, and further offering heartfelt thanks that they weren't the captain. In fact, they were busy offering - very silent! - prayers that they would be even more insignificant to this being than occult investigators were to Cthuhlu, and thus might in some small way be spared.
Behind them, a single ship -- slightly scorched --- sat there awaiting its crew and the chance to sail the seas once more. Of the other two ships, the only things that remained were pieces submerged below the water line... and those were still on fire.
"Listen up!" Asuka said forcefully, and totally unnecessarily since the pirates were trying not to breathe while she spoke. Somehow, she had put on Jori's tricorner captain's hat. "I want some clothes, a meal, and then you lot are going to take me to the mainland. Does anyone have a problem with that?"
By their complete silence the crew indicated that they most definitely did *not* have a problem with those orders.
"Get moving!" the captain and crew fell over themselves in their haste to comply. In this one moment, almost all of the crew converted to the worship of Lilith, so convinced that it was only by her grace that they were still alive.
Ignoring the pirates scrambling for clothes, food, or to make the ship ready, Asuka turned back towards Japan. Her memory of what had happened recently was... fuzzy... but even so, she knew that whatever had happened, she wasn't whole yet. She had hope now, something she wasn't sure she'd had before, but that by itself wasn't enough for the proud warrior. She needed to find her own path, regain what she had lost.
Not for the first time, Asuka stared at her hands. All she could see was pink, unblemished skin. Calluses from countless hours of hard work were gone. So were scars that should have been there. Precious scars, which might have helped make a difference between the truth and the lies.
This body, which should have been nothing more than a burnt husk, had been healed. But not her mind: the goddess had been unable, or unwilling, to help her with that.
Part of her wanted to curse Lilith, but the greater part was grateful. This was her ordeal to face. She had failed the first time, and now she had the chance to try again. This time she wouldn't fail. She would walk back the steps of her life, find out the truth, and banish the lies within the depths of her heart. And then, she would be able to move forward again. But for that she needed to be alone for a time, to sort things out.
Although, she kind of realized she would never be alone. Her companions... friends... would always be with her in some way. And maybe when she felt she could face herself, she could rejoin them. Until then, what would she do?
She turned towards the Sea of Japan. On her trip here she'd heard rumors about a necromancer haunting the peoples of the Korean peninsula; or of a great beast hunting Beijing at night. Maybe it was a vampire. She would enjoy killing a vampire. Then, there was that warlord in Mongolia who was destroying peaceful villages...
Maybe... maybe if she got back to fighting monsters, she'd find a way to slay her own.
X O X
"I can't believe you came back here."
An exhausted Myssa shrugged to High Priestess Michiru's words through the bandages covering her shoulder. "What can I say? Your hot springs were just that good."
Crossing the Northern Wastes had been as bad as she'd feared. The beasts of the Wastes had stayed enraged and thrown themselves against the fleeing refugees in bloodthirsty waves. The half-elves had been hard pressed to keep everyone safe, and even the pure dark elves recovering enough to be trusted had not made it much better. So many had fallen to fang and claw, or just to the terrible harshness of the trek. All of the guards who had survived were bandaged, wounded, exhausted. Against the advice of the pure bloods she'd ordered weapons given to the humans: it was the only reason any of the refugees had made it.
Desperate, their supplies wiped out by a horde of plague rats, Myssa had made a necessary choice. She'd steered the caravan of fleeing souls to the closest break in the Grand Wall and for the nearest town. After over two weeks of nearly constant running battles and enduring the equally deadly weather of the Wastes, she'd lead the exhausted remnants of her shattered nation to the gates of a very surprised Niigata.
Dark elf, half-elf and humans were now corralled at a clearing just beyond the walls of the city that had once tried to sacrifice her. The humans had separated the ex-slaves from the dark elves and some joyous reunions were currently underway for those lucky enough to find long-lost family.
Myssa was too drained to truly care what happened next. They'd made it. More had successfully made the trek than she'd ever thought possible. Sure they were in the hands of nut-jobs who probably would kill them... but she'd need a few hours sleep before she could get up enough energy to care. If she lived long enough.
"I thank Lilith for delivering some of our lost back to us," Michiru said.
"At least she was kind enough to arrange it without needing my blood," Myssa said in an exhausted, offhand tone. "Except for the stuff I spilled in keeping everyone safe on the way here."
"As for you..."
"You know, I even met Princess Hikari for a moment," Myssa said. "Turns out the dark elves didn't kill her."
"It doesn't matter. You and your... people... have crimes to atone for."
A dirty, thin human woman with short dark hair came forward, holding a small dark-skinned infant to her chest. Upon seeing the woman, Michiru's eyes widened and her lip trembled.
"No... no... no..."
"Please... haven't we all lost enough? For now, can we just... not."
"How... how can you say that?!" Michiru demanded, taking a trembling step forward. "How... how can you let such a thing go?!" The younger woman sighed.
"I'm tired. I'm tired of being hard. I don't want to live like that anymore." The young woman with the violet eyes smiled sadly. "It won't be easy. But... can you at least say, 'today, I won't kill?'"
"It would take a miracle," Michiru said, quietly.
"The best miracles are the ones we work for ourselves," the younger woman said, still smiling. "Someone important once told me that. Someone I haven't seen in a long time." Michiru's eyes shimmered, and tears started to slide down her face as she covered her mouth with one hand.
"For now, at least... Mama, come say hello to your grandson."
X O X
Shinji found Kensuke at one of the camps around the capital. The bard spent a lot of his time there, helping with the relief effort or just entertaining the crowds. This was what he was doing right now, telling the story of some hero Shinji had never heard of before. Judging the reaction of the crowd, the Wind Chosen knew that his decision was the right one.
Shinji waited for Kensuke to finish before discreetly waving at him. Dressed in a simple Tokyo guard uniform, Shinji could blend in relatively well, though every once and a while someone recognized him if they paid enough attention.
"Hey! I was hoping to catch you!" Kensuke said with enthusiasm. It was fairly easy to guess what was on his mind, which suited Shinji just fine.
"I know," said Shinji. There hadn't really been time for the two of them to talk after the battle. Both had been too busy, but Shinji was going to rectify that now. "Not here though. Unlike you, I don't really want to be heard by everyone."
Kensuke nodded, suddenly serious.
"I know a place."
Wordlessly, Shinji followed him. They didn't go very far, reaching a damaged house a few minutes later. The place seemed to have weathered the two battles fairly well, with the exception of the front door which had been clearly been broken open... that and the blood which stained the walls.
Shinji picked up a fallen chair and sat down at the kitchen table with Kensuke.
"I'll tell you what happened," said Shinji. "Everything I can tell you and probably a couple things I shouldn't."
Despite the gravity of the words, Shinji could see the excitement in the bard's eyes.
"You remember? You remember the fight? I asked Touji, but he said he didn't remember a thing! Rei's... Rei, and Asuka isn't around."
"I remember," said Shinji. "And I'll tell you everything... under one condition."
"What?!" Kensuke looked outraged. "A condition? What condition?"
"The story you tell to the people... I want Touji to be the hero."
Shinji could see Kensuke's eyes widen behind his glasses.
"What? Why? What happened?"
"Promise me, Kensuke."
The bard hesitated. He was visibly torn between his thirst of knowledge and the feeling that there was something very wrong with Shinji's request.
"Fine," said Kensuke, relenting. "Tell me."
Shinji did. He told the bard everything except two points: the truth about his family and Tabris' real identity. Kensuke listened intently, not interrupting even once. Only once Shinji was finally finished and he'd had a moment to absorb it all did he speak.
"Why?" he asked. "Why do you want Touji to be the hero?"
"This city, this country will need to be rebuilt," answered Shinji. "The people will need someone to believe in, to trust, to give them hope. That person is Touji."
"But why? You killed Adam!"
"We killed Adam," corrected Shinji. "The four of us... it's hard to describe. When we fought, we were one. It doesn't matter whose body was used for the fight. In the end, it was our four hearts, together, that won the day. Alone... I had already lost fighting alone."
"I'm not asking you to lie," said Shinji. "Not really. I'm asking you to overlook certain details and put more emphasis on some others. Like how the Earth Chosen had to bravely fight the dark elf general all on his own, while I failed to rescue Rei."
"You're asking a lot."
"I know. I'm not asking you to do it all in one day. Just put emphasis on Touji as time goes by. The rest will work itself out on its own."
"He's not going to like this."
"By the time he realizes it, it'll be too late. If he tries to downplay his role, people will just interpret it as not trying to upstage his wife, his Queen."
Kensuke scowled. "That's pretty shrewd of you."
"Runs in the family," said Shinji cryptically. "So?"
Kensuke seemed to ponder the question for a while. Shinji let him. They'd seen enough together for him to give the bard the choice.
"Fine," agreed the bard. "I'll do it your way. But your next adventures, I'll be telling them the way I want!"
"I doubt there will be much to tell, I'm afraid."
Kensuke pushed his glasses up his nose and gave Shinji a manic grin that sent a chill down his spine.
"Shinji..." he said as he shook his head. "You killed a god. You've been touched by the Goddess. Do you think it's just going to end there? You, you my friend... will have an exciting life!"
"I certainly hope not."
"It's how the world works! It's fate! Nothing you can do about it! They've done research on the subject!" said the bard, a bit too cheerfully for Shinji's taste. Kensuke then gave him a more serious look. "You're leaving soon, aren't you? That's why you're bothering about this whole Touji thing." Shinji sighed. With his eccentricities, it was easy to forget that Kensuke had a pretty keen mind. "It makes sense," the bard continued. "Rei's not going to stay here much longer, she never liked this city in the first place. Asuka... she's probably on her way back home right now. That just leaves you and Touji."
"I meant what I said," insisted Shinji. "The people of Tokyo will need someone like Touji."
"He'll be king soon enough," said Kensuke, looking as if he didn't quite believe his own words. "He would be there for the people anyway."
"Maybe," Shinji replied. "But him being the hero will just make it better. It will help shore up his and Hikari's rule. People will follow them, not just out of obligation, or duty, but because they believe in them."
"But you're leaving."
"Yeah," reluctantly admitted Shinji. "Soon. Say goodbye to Mayumi for me, would you?"
Kensuke got up and presented his right hand to Shinji.
"Safe travels then. And be sure to come back now and then to tell me all about it!"
Shinji shook his head as he took Kensuke's own hand in a firm handshake.
"You know that wishing me safe travels and adventure filled days are in total contradiction, right?"
Kensuke just grinned.
X O X
In one of the upper council rooms of the still damaged Castle Tokyo, a meeting was taking place between nations. It was a meeting that many said could never happen. Human, elf and dark elf leaders all sat around a table and for the first time in millennia of fighting... talked.
"What you offer is Shikoku, in perpetuity, to be our lands?" Myssa asked.
"That is correct," Queen Hikari said. "Although humans supposedly lived there once, before the Black Wars, we have not been able to marshal the resources to colonize it again."
"What will we find there?" the dark elf Makinami asked, adjusting her glasses to get a better view of the map laid out on the conference table before her.
"A group of explorers funded by the Mage's Guild landed on the island twenty seven years ago," High Mage Gendo said coldly. "They were only there briefly but reported goblins and shisshars. An unusually large number of mystic beasts and ruins were also mentioned."
Makinami returned the mage's cold gaze. "I face worse dangers every day before breakfast in the Northern Wastes. In fact, once more it seems like we're being exiled to some out-of-the-way place."
"But it's not," Shinji said, leaning forward. "Just look at the plant life, the soil conditions, the rainfall: it's nothing like the Wastes. Your people can actually prosper on Shikoku."
Myssa pointed to something on the sheet of parchment. "And in return we have to forswear the development and teaching of necromancy and demonology, as well as mind control enchantments. That's a fairly large selection of our magical arsenal we'd be giving up."
"And it's not like your Church or Mage Guilds don't have secret projects to work on these schools of magic," Makinami added.
Hikari turned a death glare upon Maya and Gendo, causing the newly elevated High Priestess to squirm and the High Mage to adjust his glasses. "While it is true we won't be able to enforce any restrictions on magical training, for the foreseeable future you are likely to be in a situation where resources are limited. We hope that you focus what you have on less... troublesome... means of defence."
"You've been struggling for lands of your own for so long now," Yui said. "Do you really want to pollute them with the by-products of such techniques?"
Makinami narrowed her eyes. "No. We've had enough of living in dead lands. Our home will not suffer the same fate." After a moment, she blinked and looked surprised. "Our... home," she said, softly. "It... sounds so strange to say those words." Myssa looked a little overwhelmed.
The Queen nodded. "It is true that the island is out of the way, but that may be for the best. Considering all that happened, it would be foolish to think your people and mine could live side-by-side like nothing happened. Some time, and some space, is needed."
"Even if the distance is needed," Lady Ayanami said to her dark cousins, "don't isolate yourselves. That was the mistake the elves made so long ago, and our wars with the humans were tragic and unnecessary. They only ended when we both came together and softened our differences by recognizing the things we shared."
Myssa looked down at the treaty again. "And that's why you want us all to work together on a bridge to Shikoku?"
Shinji nodded. "It will take years to finish, but as it's being built groups of humans, elves, and dark elves will be working towards the same goal. In the end, it will show what we can do together."
"Or be used to march an army across."
"By the time it's done, both sides should have learned enough that there will be no reason to."
Makinami shook her head. "Dreamers, the whole lot of you." Still, her eyes kept returning to the map of Shikoku stretched out before them.
Myssa motioned the dark elf to look back at the treaty. After some more reading, Makinami asked, "So who's going to be our jailors?"
"Jailors? Are you talking about the embassy?"
"What else is it there for?"
Hikari shifted the scepter in her hands to lie across her lap. "I won't deny it is there to look out for our interests, but it's not going to be a military detachment. Only a few clergy who have volunteered to help your half-elves discover part of their heritage."
Makinami narrowed her almond-shaped eyes. "They're our people. The way they fought to save what was left of our families..." She looked at Myssa. "It will be hard for some of us to admit to it, but if we're to make our new home work, the half-bre... the half-elves will be given the respect they've earned, but haven't always been shown."
"Don't worry, Commander," Myssa said. "While some of us are... a bit interested... we know our duty." She smirked. "I hope those clergy who get assigned there are used to failure."
"Well," Maya said nervously. "Lady- I mean, Priestess Ritsuko, has asked to serve there, saying a hard task and some humility will help her. And Priestess Michriu has voluntarily accepted a reduction in rank and asked to be transferred to the island."
"Michiru!?" Myssa asked, her eyes wide.
Maya smiled. "She said the world is changing, and so should she." Myssa just shook her head, still looking a little stunned.
"The world is changing," Makinami repeated, reverently. "For better or for worse, I wonder?"
The Queen smiled. "That will depend on us."
X O X
Shinji gave Tokyo Cathedral one last look. Heavily scarred by recent events, it seemed to stand prouder than ever as it was filed to capacity. Those who hadn't been able to get in stood outside, waiting for the blessed moment. Shinji took comfort at the size of the crowd. Though the dark elf conflict and Adam's rise had caused too many deaths, in the end, there were still many survivors.
Turning his back to the cathedral, Shinji ventured into one of the most heavily damaged sections of the Holy City. As the wind brought the cheers of the populace to Shinji's ears, he knew that everyone's eyes were fixated on his soon to be wed friends. Shinji felt guilty about missing this important event, but now was probably the only chance he'd have to go away unnoticed.
Soon enough Shinji's steps took him out of the ruined streets and into an area in process of being rebuilt. The new habitations here were small and modest, but provided a roof against the elements and were completely made of stone. Some of it made by Touji, who had helped use the shattered remnants of the city to build these new homes. Seeing this, the people of Tokyo had rapidly accepted Touji and grown enthusiastic about the royal wedding. Their future Consort Royal was a man who wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty to help those in need.
Of course, some members of the elite and noble families had tried to voice opposition to this wedding, but their protests had been promptly squashed. Whatever Touji's lineage or upbringing, he was now not only one of Lilith's Chosen, but also one of the heroes who had saved the world: it made attempts to discredit him difficult. Though, truly, those few who had dared argue and incurred Queen Hikari's wrath had soon repented. Seeing this Shinji had wondered if they should have taken Hikari to the Northern Wastes with them. And he'd thought Touji could be stubborn...
Finally, Shinji found himself standing in front of the newly repaired city wall, again thanks to the efforts of Touji and the stonemason's guild. He looked back at the city, the place where his friends and family were currently gathered. He could still go back, still change his mind.
Family and friends... To think that the very concept had been foreign to him a year ago. It was something he had wished for all along and now, he was about to leave it all behind. There was no helping it though, he had something to do. Besides, it wasn't as if he planned to go away forever. Going this way... just made it easier. If he had to say goodbye to them all, he might never have left.
Gathering his resolve once more, Shinji called forth the powers of the wind and launched himself over the wall. Another gust of wind broke his fall on the other side, although it was kind of a close thing.
Not for the first time, Shinji was surprised at how much harder it was to control the winds. He still had his abilities, but they were lessened. He no longer had the Wind Crest to enhance his powers or summon Fuujin, and maybe he no longer had a pressing destiny before him that required such fantastic powers. Maybe no longer having to fight a god meant Lilith had withdrawn power he would no longer be needing. It meant he was closer to being just a normal person, albeit one with an affinity for wind magic and a raging berserker buried deep inside. He thought it a fair trade.
They were lucky enough to be alive as it was. Maybe with training he could rebuild his powers, but that was something to work on in the future. Right now he had to get on the road; he knew that his little exit would probably look suspicious. The last thing he wanted was throw the city into an uproar and interrupt Hikari and Touji's wedding. The Queen would probably have is head.
The Wind Chosen screamed girlishly and almost jumped out of his skin at the oh-so-familiar monotone voice that came without warning from behind him.
"By the Goddess, Rei!" Out of all possible scenarios, that was probably the worst Shinji had imagined. And, thus the most likely to have happened. He had figured that if anyone were to notice his egress, it would be Rei. But still, he had been so careful! Shinji didn't know if he should be angry, upset, or just plain panicking. He settled on all of the above. "You scared the-"
As he turned to face her, Shinji forgot what he wanted to say next as his brain froze for a moment at the sight of the elf. Her usual tunic had been replaced by a dark blue silk dress which flowed like water over the curves of her body, emphasizing the beauty of her alabaster skin. Her perpetual unruly mop of hair had been carefully combed and was crowned with a sapphire encrusted mithril tiara. She looked more like a princess than the seasoned warrior Shinji had traveled with for months. Though, as he recalled, not only was Rei one of Lilith's Chosen, but she was also the daughter of the ruler and High Priestess of Kelethin. In a sense, the princess description wasn't completely incorrect.
"You... you look beautiful..." said the Wind Chosen, before realizing what he had just said. The words seemed to take the elf by surprise, who avoided his gaze for a moment. And was that the hint of a blush on her face? Whatever it was, it quickly passed as Rei regained her composure and focused her ruby eyes on him again.
"You are leaving."
It was a statement, not a question. In a way, Shinji took comfort in that fact. He was confident that Rei wouldn't judge his decision or ask him to reconsider. Of everyone, she was the one he most wanted to avoid. She was also the one he had most hoped to see. Shinji couldn't help but laugh at his confused feelings, laugh at the absurdity of this whole situation.
The elf gave him a quizzical look.
"I guess I can't hide anything from you, huh?" Shinji said a few moments later after he recovered his composure. "I'm glad though. I didn't really want to say goodbye," he admitted. With Rei... he felt he could safely speak his mind. Well, almost. There were a few things he didn't quite feel bold enough to tell her. "But, at least, it gives me the chance to apologize."
Shinji nodded. "For failing to save you." He paused a moment, trying to find a way to properly explain one of the things that had been on his mind since their return. "I tried... but it in the end, it wasn't enough. I failed you. You died because I was not strong enough."
The elf didn't react. For a moment, the two just stared at one another. Shinji was not willing to back down. He had to show her he was sincere, he owed her that much. The elf surprised him as she shook her head.
"You do not need to apologize." Shinji wanted to argue, but the elf raised a finger to silence him. "It was my fault that the enemy captured me. My pride, weakness, and desire to do things by myself. But you... In the end, you corrected my mistake. You fought against impossible odds and won. And because of your courage, I stand here, before you, alive."
"But... you died. Alone, and in pain."
The elf nodded. "I experienced the worst of life. So any moment that is not that, I treasure."
The elf seemed to consider something, then the edges of her mouth turned down a smidgeon. "This guilt. This mistake you believe you have made. Is this the reason you are leaving?"
"Maybe. Partly. But not exactly for the reason you think," said Shinji. "Not because of you," he specified. "Do you remember anything from the battle, from the time the four of us were one?"
The elf shook her head. "No. My last clear memory is of Tabris ending my life." Shinji winced at the words and how simply she could speak them. "Then I recall waking and being hugged by you." Shinji looked away in embarrassment at that. He could recall that specific moment in embarrassingly accurate detail. "There are times where I recall... blurred sensations. Warmth. A sense of belonging. Kinship, unity. But nothing more."
Shinji nodded, having expected that. Touji had told him something similar. It looked like Shinji was the only one who remembered.
"I mostly remember the battle," he explained. "But, while we were joined... I felt things. Fragments, memories from each of us. It's unclear, and slowly fading, but... you weren't the only one I failed. I couldn't help Asuka either. Because of it, she was used, manipulated. And she suffered from it, I could feel it. I could felt her guilt, the shame, the loneliness." Shinji paused a moment. The looked up at Rei with determination. "I want to find her. I want to tell her that it's fine, that I don't blame her for anything. That I apologize for not being able to help her when she needed it the most."
The elf pondered his words a moment. "She may not accept your apology."
Shinji nodded. "I know. But it's something I need to do regardless."
"Very well," said the elf. "I will accompany you then."
Shinji blinked, as he tried to process what the elf had just said. "What?"
"Like you, I hold responsibility for her ordeals," Rei explained. "I should have seen the darkness that plagued her, recognized it for what it was. Instead, I let myself focus on and be blinded by hatred of the dark elves, I put the blame solely on them. You are not a healer as I am. But I could not help her. As such, she deserves my apology as well."
Shinji found it difficult to argue with her logic. He could understand her reasoning. Still...
"Rei... it's something I feel I need to do. You don't have to do this if you don't want to."
"I wish to follow you," said the elf, before frowning. "Unless you have no desire for my company."
Shinji was completely lost. In all the scenarios he had ran into his mind, Rei saying that she wanted to follow him hadn't been part of them. He hadn't even dared consider it. And now that it was happening... he had no idea if he should be excited or not about the prospect!
"What?! No! That's not it at all! I'm happy that you want to come along! It's just... It may be a while before we catch up to her, assuming we ever do. She's probably on the continent by now. Odds are we'll probably have to go all the way to Germania to find her. The continent... I don't know a thing about it. We'll probably run into trouble."
"I accept that," said Rei, undeterred by the prospect of danger. "For my entire life I prepared for one singular goal: now that goal has been fulfilled. I did not expect to live beyond that, yet I do. Perhaps this journey will allow me to discover a new purpose."
At that moment, Shinji knew that he couldn't try to change her mind. He didn't have the right to. Rei had been prepared to die fighting Adam. She had lived her life with such outcome in mind. But in the end, she had chosen to come back. This new life was hers to live the way she desired, without the burden of destiny. So if her choice was now to follow him... then he couldn't say no.
And dammit! He didn't want to say no!
"Alright," agreed. "We'll go together."
"Then, let us not linger any longer. Our absence should have been noted by now."
As if on cue, Shinji saw two horses coming from the nearby thicket of trees. Shinji blinked, as he realized that both animals were saddled up and had luggage and provisions on their backs. One of them had what looked suspiciously like two short swords strapped to the saddle.
"I had expected you might leave the city soon. So I prepared accordingly."
Speechless, Shinji stared at the elf. Was he that predictable? Or was Rei's intuition that keen? In the end, Shinji shook his head with a defeated smile. Did it matter? As Rei slipped out of her gown and into traveling clothes, Shinji kept his eyes focused on his own mount. To his utter surprise, inside one of his saddlebags he found a small, familiar harmonica resting atop the blankets. It brought back so many memories.
He didn't know what the future held in store for the angry young boy who had to be rescued from a village that had no use for him. But now, perhaps for the first time in his life, found himself looking forward to finding out.
*** Afterwords ***
First, I want to thank Darren Demaine for his unwavering support through the years, first as a pre-reader, then as a co-writer. Though I've always intended to finish this project if life permitted, I'll readily admit that without him, it would surely have taken me several more years while the overall quality would be much inferior. Odds are, there's probably very few people who've read this story has often as he did. That's some dedication...
Next, I want to thank Myssa Rei for her help during the early phase of this story. We didn't always agree on the aesthetics, but our discussions still helped shape the story. She also didn't mind me abusing her Name, though technically, the character of Myssa was actually roughly based off my EverQuest half-elf druid os the same name rather than the real person.
I also want to thank Jeremy Mullin, Alex Churchill and all the other pre-readers who've helped along the way. Though Chosen could never pretend to be a professional work, I've grateful for the added quality they helped provide.
I also need to acknowledge and thank Studio Gainax (Neon Genesis Evangelion), CLAMP (Magic Knight Rayearth) and Rio Mizuno (Record of Lodoss War) as their stories served as building blocks for this work of fanfiction.
Finally, I want to thank you all, the readers, for putting up with me for a decade. A speed writer I am not, yet some of you never lost hope and endured through my indecent delays. My apologies for making you wait so long and my thanks, once again.
Here ends for you the adventures of Lilith's Chosen. I hope you enjoyed the ride. I still have some side projects, but whether they will see the light of day or be released to the public...
That's another story.
October 9th 2012
The reason I became a pre-reader was simple: I like Alain's work. I liked it so much I was unable to wait for him to finish it, I had to read it *now*.
That fact probably kept me sane during these long stretches of getting the fic done, as every few months I got a scene or two to read (and edit, oh boy, was there a lot of editing) so unlike the general audience, I was able to get my Rakna fan-fic fix far more regularly than the average person.
I never intended to become a co-writer, I was content to do grammatical corrections and such. But more and more Alain bounced ideas off me, listened to my wacky suggestions, and eventually just broke down and said, "Know what? Could you write this scene for me?" Things went from there. The story idea, main plot, major developments are all his, but a fair amount of the getting there, the knitty-gritty details are mine. Which parts belong to whom? Hell, they've been edited together so many times that even I'm not sure sometimes.
I will take most of the credit for getting this beast out before the 2012 end of the world though. If you think we were slow (and we were!), trust me; it could have been much, much worse.
So I would like to thank Alain for his great work that I *wanted* to help with, and for *allowing* me to help with. Also Jeremy Mullin who introduced me to "The One I Love Is", and thus inadvertently signed me up to be Alain's writing slave for a decade.
Thanks to Studio Gainax and now Studio Khara for Neon Genesis Evangelion in all its bizarre, confusing, sanity-destroying, money-sucking forms. Magical Knights Rayearth and Record of Lodoss Wars for their base as Alain mentioned. Gonzo for Tower of Drugua which added to the fun. Rumiko Takahashi, (of Ranma 1/2 fame) for showing me how to make a gag. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, as well as the people at TSR and Wizards of the Coast for the Dungeons and Dragons game. I wish my adventures were as much fun as this story has been.
And to you, the reader. Thank you for your patience. It's been a long haul, but I'm glad we could get through it together. You have to admit, there's something about Asuka with a flaming sword and Rei with elf-ears that just sings.
October 10, 2012