-*-

               John Biles & Rod M. Present
          A Neon Genesis Evangelion Elseworlds


                 Children of an Elder God

                        Part 14
                   Saving The Dead
                      part 2 of 3
               The Road to Aldebaran

                         -*-

	In the world of dreams, Asuka and Touji stood on a
grassy field, the scene of combat between the two earlier.
Now, however, combat was the last thing on their minds.

	A whisper from a dead boy's lips had caught their
ears, from a place unknown, unseen.

	"Help meeeee...."

	Touji whipped his head around, searching desperately
for the source of that voice, the voice of his best friend,
Kensuke Aida.

	"Ken!  Where are ya?!  Ken!"

	"Kensuke!" shouted Asuka.

	His voice whispered in the wind once more, though
this time it was barely audible, fading to nothing as the
last letter was spoken.

	"The kingdom... of Joy."

	The duo shouted desperately for their old friend to
say more, but recieved no further response.  Desperate to
see his friend once more, Touji continued to yell.

	"Ken!  Dammit, say something!  Ken!"

	With still no repsonse, he was about to run off into
the horizon when Asuka got a firm grip of his shoulder.

	"Hey, leggo'a me, dammit!"

	"Don't waste your time," she said solemnly.

	"You fuckin' coldhearted bitch! He's my friend!"

	"Do you know where the hell you're running off to?!
Huh?!" she shot back angrily.

	"I... er..."  Touji deflated, looking defeated.  "I
gotta do something..."

	"I should've realized this could have been
possible," muttered Asuka, deep in thought.  "Kensuke's
dream-self is still alive."

	"Dream-self? wha?"

	"His body may be taken by the King in Yellow, but
his soul isn't gone yet.  Somewhere in the Dreamlands his
soul is alive."  She frowned as she took a seat on a nearby
boulder.  "But in the Kingdom of Joy?"

	"You know where that is?" asked Touji.

	"Dumpkof, remember where the play was set in?"

	Touji blinked, thought about it, then widened his
eyes as realization settled in.  "That... that place is for
real?"

	"I guess it is," said Asuka.  She reached behind the
boulder and surprised Touji by pulling out bright red metal
armor, something out of the middle ages.  She surprised him
again when, as she whistled, a horse rode in out of nowhere
in response to her summons.

	"What the heck?" asked Touji, watching Asuka go from
modern battle gear to sword-and-sorcery gear, complete with
sword.  "What're you doin'?"

	"Putting on my uniform," replied Asuka, all business
in her tone.  "I'm the Red Knight of Celephais."

	"Red Knight of.... okaaay... and where d'ya think
you're goin?"

	"To find Kensuke," she replied, saddling up on her
horse.  "Someone in Celephais might know how to get to the
Kingdom of Joy."

	"Not without me you ain't."

	"Quit playing around, idiot," said Asuka.  "You'll
just get in my way."

	"He's my best friend," said Touji again.  "I let'em
down once, I ain't doing it again."

	Asuka was ready to flatten him with a solid hit of
her sheathed sword, but the solemness in his grim features
gave her pause.

	"I... fine, get on.  But get grabby and I'll shove
this sword up your ass."

	Touji blinked.  "Aw, shit, we gotta share the
horse?"

	This was going to be a long ride.

                         -*-

	The ride to Celephais should have taken months. 
Perhaps it did, but to Touji, it seemed like only minutes at
the time.  Looking back on it, he could remember many days
of travel, but not anything that happened during those days. 
He wasn't one to complain at missing out on experiencing
months of travel with Asuka, though. 

	Finally, one day they crested a hill, and Touji got
his first glimpse of Celephais, ringed by shiningly clean
marble walls, and split by the river Naraxa, which formed a
blue ribbon across the green landscape.  There were seven
gates, each topped with a huge bronze statue of a knight; to
his surprise, Touji recognized one of them as a statue of
Asuka in the same armor she was now wearing.  Many more
knightly statues in bronze topped the walls periodically,
honoring past defenders of the City of Delights.  Minarets
topped with shining metals and shaped like onions caught the
sun's rays atop the walls, and in its heart, he could see
the huge Palace of Seventy Delights, carved from
rose-crystal. 

	A beach stretched north and south of the city, and
at the broad mouth of the Naraxa was the great stone bridge
lined with buildings which had linked the two halves of the
city's vast harbor for millennia.  Hundreds, maybe thousands
of ships crowded the harbor, and even from this distance, he
could see thousands of men bustling about the ships, loading
and unloading them.  Across the ocean, ships approached and
departed, single and double-rigged, schooners, caravels,
longboats, outriggers, cogs and even a single clipper ship
that seemed quite lost. 

	The streets of the city bustled with life as well,
thousands of men and women in many forms of dress, with skin
ranging from pitch black to albino, and hair crossing the
same range, and many others rarely found in the waking
world.  The buildings were eclectic in style, although many
of them either evoked Russia or the Middle East to Touji's
sight, with onion domes and minarets and geometric art. 

	And then his vision swirled, and the city was far
away as it should have been, instead of thrusting itself
close enough to see it far more easily than should have been
possible from his vantage point.  He shook his head and
rubbed his eyes.  "I thought medieval cities were small." 

	Asuka laughed.  "Celephais was old when Caesar died,
old when Alexander conquered, old when Pharoahs sent their
armies to conquer all their neighbors.  The temple of
Nath-Horthath has lasted over ten thousand years.  It's not
even the oldest building.  C'mon, if we hurry, we can get
lunch and still have most of the day to go poking around the
Great Library for clues."  She started down the hill. 

	A realization struck Touji.  "I don't have any
money." 

	Asuka grinned.  "Stick with me and that won't be a
problem.  Get lost, and you'll end up in the gutter." 

                         -*-

	"The Kingdom of Joy?" the old librarian asked.  He
stared off at the walls and scratched the thin gray fringe
of hair that was just barely hanging on along the edges of
the largely bald top of his head with his silver arm.  The
arm was quite cunningly wrought, an exact rendition of a
human arm in silver, right down to arm hair.  The fingers
just like real ones; Touji would have thought the man's arm
was simply painted silver if it wasn't clearly strapped on
at the shoulder.  The leather strap was strangely crude in
comparison to the skillful workmanship of the arm. 

	The Great Library of the Dreamlands stretched out
all around them from the pentagonal atrium, made of the
apparently ubiquitous white marble that formed one of the
major components of Celephaisan architecture.  One wall
contained the exit to the outside while each of the other
walls gave access to huge hallways each divided into four
smaller ones by ceiling to floor book shelves.  The shelves
were made of brightly painted or naturally colored wood,
stacked with books and scrolls and slabs of carven stone. 

	The atrium contained dozens of tables for reading,
and humbly clad librarians wearing brown and red robes
flitted about among the patrons, bringing requested books. 
One of those librarians was the silver-armed man with whom
Asuka and Touji were conversing. 

	Asuka said, "Yes, the Kingdom of Joy.  We need to
find it, or at least where it used to be." 

	"Hmm.  Well, I'll go get you Astinus' Atlas of the
Unknown and Cymbelline's Historical Atlas.  That should make
a good start.  While you look at those, perhaps I can dredge
up a few more references.  I'll be right back."  He turned
and ambled off towards the far right hallway. 

	Touji and Asuka took a seat and waited.  Asuka
looked around at the patrons while Touji began to
impatiently drum his fingers.  "Geez, what kinda library
makes you wait while someone else gets the books?"  Touji
complained. 

	"Any library with no card catalog and a lot of
priceless rare books," Asuka said.  "There's millions of
books and only the librarians know how to find them.  Plus,
most of them are in languages we can't read." 

	"Oh man...I just remembered.  You can't read in a
dream, right?  How the hell are we gonna read anything?" 

	Asuka smiled at him like one would smile at a half-
wit child.  "This dream is different.  It's not like a
normal dream.  You can't control it as much, and it has an
existence independent of any single human.  It's almost like
astrally projecting to another world or something.  You'll
be able to read."  She paused, then smirked at him.  "You
can read, right?" 

	Bitch, he thought.  If I didn't need you, I'd pick
up this chair and beat ya down, he thought.  But I'll never
get Kensuke back without ya.  Dammit.  "Yes, I can read."  A
blue-skinned man in furs walked in from one of the hallways
of books, came over to a table, and sat down.  Touji
blinked.  "Geez, this world is fulla weirdos." 

	"Don't let him hear you say that," Asuka said. 
"Ymir's children have been known to rip off people's arms
for looking at them funny.  And they think they're the
children of one of the Great Ones, so they have a lot of
pride." 

	"The what?  That some kinda snob club?" 

	Asuka laughed loudly.  "The Great Ones are the gods
of the Dreamlands, like Nath-Horthath, the patron of
Celephais, or Bast, the goddess of cats, or Ariel, god of
truth, or Karakal, lord of fire.  They live in a great
palace in the city of Kadath in the Cold Waste, watching
over their favored followers and meddling incessantly." 

	"Like the Greek gods up on Olympus." 

	"Exactly.  Now, think about Hercules.  The Children
of Ymir are all like him, supposedly, half-god and half-
mortal." 

	Touji leaned back in his chair.  "Now, that would be
kinda cool, having some god for a parent.  Although I
suppose they'd probably do something pretty awful if you
forgot to take out the garbage.  Still, it'd be worth it for
the bennies." 

	"Well, it's made all of them rather arrogant and
hard to deal with," Asuka said, glancing over to make sure
the Child of Ymir hadn't heard her. 

	Pot calls the kettle black, Touji thought. 


                         -*-

	It only felt like the librarian took forever to find
the two atlases and bring them.  He put them down, then
headed back into the stacks while they went to work.  Touji
took Astinus' Atlas of the Unknown because history class was
the most boring thing in the universe, so a historical atlas
probably wasn't any better.  He let Asuka have it and tried
not to let it touch him for fear the monotony would infect
him. 

	Astinus had apparently snorted a few drugs before he
made his atlas, so far as Touji could tell.  Half the maps
were written with weird chicken scratch writing and swirling
colors.  Three of the maps were completely blank except for
a label.  Most of the others had weird sounding names like
"Middle Earth, Revelstone, the Keep on the Borderlands,
Melnibone, Night City, and Pax Tharkas'.  There was also a
map of Oz, which he at least recognized the name of, a map
of 'The Known World', although it certainly wasn't known to
him, and a map of what looked suspiciously like his cousin
Hayao's backyard. 

	The maps started to blur together in his mind, an
ocean of weird names, strange colors, and the odd musty
smell of the pages.  Faint yellow powder came off the stiff
pages onto his finger tips several times. 

	Finally, he found one that got his attention.  It
was labeled 'Hali and Environs'.  A large lake dominated the
center of the map, along with a fair sized city labeled
'Carcosa'.  Across the lake was another city, labeled 'The
Ruins of Joy'.  Maybe this was it.  The Kingdom of Joy had
been destroyed after all.  "I think I've got it." 

	Asuka looked up from her book.  "The location?" 

	"Yeah."  He showed her the map.  "I bet this is it." 
He felt triumphant; I showed her who knows what they're
doing, he thought. 

	"So where's this lake?  I've never heard of it," she
said. 

	He suppressed the feeling of deflation.  "Maybe the
librarian will know." 

	The balding librarian dropped a pile of books twelve
books high on the table, making it shake.  "Know what?" 

	Touji started, then said, "Ever heard of Hali?" 

	"The lake of Hali?" 

	"Yeah." 

	The librarian paused, apparently unconsciously
making a gesture that resembled tracing out a five pointed
star at chest level.  "A cursed name.  He Who is Not to be
Named dwells there, in the city of Carcosa." 

	"Unfortunately, it looks like we need to go there." 

	His eyes flared.  "I pity you.  You'll need a flying
ship to get there." 

	"Why?" 

	"It's on a planet circling Aldebaran." 

	"The one that blows up in Star Wars?" 

	"That's Alderaan," Asuka said curtly.  "Well,
perhaps I can get the King to aid us by loaning us a boat." 

	"You know the King that well?" the librarian asked. 

	"I am the Red Knight of Celephais.  He knows me
well." 

	"Ahh.  I'm not from Celephais," he said.  "It's hard
to keep up with things changing, when you get to be my age." 

	Asuka cocked her head.  "Celephais never changes." 

	"You weren't the Red Knight the last time I heard." 

	She looked slightly embarrassed.  "Well, nothing in
Celephais changes, but the knights have to leave it to
defend it, so...anyway...uh...Thanks for the help!" 

	"Glad to be of service," he said, bowing.  "The
blessing of the Great Ones be on your quest." 

	"And may they shine their light upon you," Asuka
said, getting up and bowing back. 

	"Uh, keep on trucking," Touji said, feeling the urge
to contribute, but not knowing what to say. 

	The man blinked then smiled.  "I will try."  He
started picking the books back up, and they departed. 

                         -*-

	As they stood outside the King of Celephais' river-
side manor, Touji said, "Can I ask one question?" 

	"Sure," Asuka said as she passed their horses to the
stable boy of the stable they were standing by. 

	"What the hell is the King of Celephais doing out
here in this shit-hole of a primitive shack when he could be
in his big-ass palace?"  Touji stared at the whole village
which spread out along the river.  It looked like someone
had stolen an eighteenth century English fishing village and
plunked it down next to a city of wonders.  In comparison to
Celephais, it was a slum, though it was clean and well-built
by the lights of its style. 

	"Homesickness, I think," Asuka said.  "He's ruled in
Celephais for so long that sometimes he wants to pretend
he's normal." 

	"Makes me wonder if Shinji's dad has something like
this hidden away inside the Geo-Dome, then." 

	Asuka laughed. 

                         -*-

	King Kuranes didn't look much like a King to Touji. 
He looked like he'd been yanked out of a Sherlock Holmes
movie, and deposited in a primitive old house and dressed in
a century out of date suit.  His hair was dark black, and he
had a dapper moustache, but he didn't convey regality, in
Touji's opinion.  Nor were kings supposed to be playing
billiards when you met them. 

	"Ahh, my Red Knight.  I am well pleased to see you,
Maiden of Fire.  Interested in a game of billiards?"  He
turned to Touji.  "A pleasure to meet you.  Any friend of
Asuka is a friend of mine." 

	Touji bit back the urge to deny any connection to
little Ms. Nazi.  "A pleasure to meet you, your highness." 
He dug through his brain for any scraps of a clue about how
to greet royalty.  He settled for bowing deeply.  "I'm
Suzuhara Touji.  Asuka and I are both..."  He struggled to
think of how to explain their connection. 

	"We are both warriors together in the Waking World,
Kuranes-sama," Asuka said.  "Touji is my... squire, who I am
training.  We have come to seek the dream self of a friend
who has fallen prey to one of our enemies."

	"I ain't no squire!"  Touji blurted out. 

	Asuka ignored him and launched into a lengthy
explanation while Touji looked around the room, muttering to
himself. 

	The parlour was very plush by the archaic standards
applied to the whole place, with pleasant blue, yellow, and
red floral print wallpaper on the walls, a thick carpet that
made Touji want to take off his boots, and lots of nicely
padded furniture, tastefully upholstered in greens and
blues.  There was a bookcase next to the large fireplace,
which had a small hamper for firewood next to it, made of
bronze.  The pool table itself had little to distinguish it
from a modern one, except for being made of mahogany. 

	The King's opponent was an elegant woman with bright
green eyes and dark brown slightly wavy hair cascading down
around her shoulders and down her back to nearly the bottom
of her shoulder-blades.  She too wore late nineteenth
century dress; her clothing was quite demure, in shades of
blue and purple, hiding most of her flesh in folds of cloth,
except for her neck, hands, and face.  Her neck was itself
hidden away by a choker pinned shut with a silver cross that
had a rose twined about it.  She looked to be in her early
thirties, as far as Touji could guess.  She smiled at Touji,
then leaned her cue stick against the table and sat down at
a nearby chair, crossing her legs. 

	Asuka concluded with, "We would be most grateful if
you could loan us a flying ship." 

	"I'd be happy to.  Although..." 

	"Although?" Touji asked.  Here's where he asks us to
go recover the Golden Cow of Twombly or something, he
thought. 

	"It's nothing.  I just had never heard of a silver
armed librarian at the Great Library.  He must have an
interesting story to tell about how he got it." 

	Or he wasn't a librarian, a tiny voice of paranoia
in Touji's head said.  He stomped on the voice.  Why would
the king know all the librarians in such a big library,
anyway? 

	"Or perhaps he wasn't a librarian," the woman said
softly. 

	"Now, now, Mina, you're being paranoid again," the
king said, turning to her.  "The librarians of the Great
Library are very firm with imposters, so few people are
crazy enough to try."  He turned back to Touji and Asuka. 
"I'll write out a letter for you to take with you to the
docks.  They'll need to take you to Serranian to get one of
the star maps from the Royal Museum.  So you'll need a
letter for that as well.  Mina, can you ring the servants to
bring us some food?  This will take a while." 

	She smiled faintly and rose, walking over to the
bell by one door, striking it with the attached knocker. 
"The usual?" 

	"Of course."  He paused and turned to Touji.  "You
like roast beef, don't you?" 

	Touji's mouth watered at the thought.  "I haven't
had a decent meal in...a while.  Sounds great." 

	"Very good.  Let it be done by royal command."  He
laughed.  "You'll have time for a game or two before you go,
won't you?"

	Asuka started to say no, but Touji butted in. 
"Sure.  I promise I'll go easy on you since you're king." 

	Kuranes laughed loudly.  "And I promise I won't
execute you if you win." 

	Mina laughed at that.  "This should be
entertaining." 

                         -*-

	They ended up staying that night and leaving in the
morning, after Kuranes and Touji played billiards late into
the night.  In the morning, Touji said, "Man, he could clean
up on the pool circuit.  He makes my old man look like a
baby," as they were riding off towards the docks. 

	Asuka laughed.  "I think he has the only pool table
in the Dreamlands." 

	"That sucks.  I was hoping I could find some more
people to play with."  He looked back thoughtfully.  "So who
was that woman, anyway?  His wife?" 

	"She's the Rose Knight, his bodyguard." 

	Touji turned and stared at Asuka.  "She was a
knight?  She didn't look too tough." 

	"She could have driven that pool cue through your
heart in about three seconds.  She killed a vampire like
that once." 

	"Vampires?  There's freaking vampires in this
place?"  Touji looked around nervously. 

	"Yes.  And much worse besides.  You too scared to go
on?" Her voice was less mocking than he would have expected. 
"The Dreamlands are beautiful, but there are parts of it
forged from nightmare as well." 

	"Hell no, I ain't scared," Touji said.  "If you
ain't scared yet, then I don't got to worry." 

	You should be scared, Asuka thought.  This trip has
the potential to get a lot worse. 
	
                         -*-

	For Touji, getting worse started with puking his
guts out four times over the side of the ship on the way to
Serranian and not being able to keep any food down. 
Finally, after the third day, his stomach settled and he
managed to eat, not that hardtack was very tasty, but it
staved off hunger, sort of.  It beat feeling his stomach
churning like a washing machine, anyway. 

	Thus it was that when Serranian could first be
glimpsed on the horizon, he was filled with a level of joy
he had rarely experienced.  Finally, I'm gonna get off this
damn ship, he thought. 

	It looked like a floating hunk of rock topped with a
pinkish gray cloud at first, but as he grew closer, he could
see it was a floating island, mostly covered by a great city
largely made of marble ridden through with pink veins.  Five
great temples rose above the other buildings, each of them
with a great pillared portico in front and Greek lettering
along the roof.  Taller still, a huge white lighthouse
dominated the city skyline from its position near the
harbor.  A second could be seen jutting out of the bottom of
the island; Touji wondered why it didn't fall off.  But the
mightiest of all the buildings was the great domed castle at
its center, topped with a huge bronze hemisphere that shone
brightly in the sunlight. 

	The boat tacked around the east side of the isle to
the harbor, a great semicircular bay full of fluffy white
clouds, which the flying boat landed on.  The clouds
billowed about the boat, which left a wake through them. 
Dozens of boats filled the harbor.  Most of them flew the
flags of the Six Kingdoms, but the lemon sails of Sarrub,
the lateen-rigged blue sails of Ashur, and the bird-like
winged boats of the Aeries of Alilod could be seen as well. 

	The Morning Star pulled into one of the Royal docks,
along side the Haragrimand Trafalgar, both of them great
caravels like the Morning Star.  Captain Ashtoneth, an ugly
middle-aged man with black hair, a crooked nose, and three
horizontal scars on his left cheek, turned to them.  "I'll
be waiting here when you return.  Do you need directions to
the museum?" 

	"I'd appreciate that," Asuka said.  "And a barf bag
for my squire, Touji."  She grinned impishly. 

	"I'm not your fucking squire and I don't need a barf
bag!" 

	"A barf barrel, then," she said, and they wasted
some time shouting at each other after that. 

                         -*-

	The museum stood on a promotory on the far eastern
side of the island; their feet ached by the time they got
there, having foolishly walked the distance.  They had to
walk along a narrow causeway lined by two elbow-high walls,
with a good mile deep drop on either side.  Touji did his
best to keep his eyes straight forward, and so did Asuka. 

	As with many buildings in Serranian, the round
Museum was topped by a great dome, this one of crystal, and
many windows of the same transparent crystal were spaced
evenly around its exterior wall.  It stood inside a one
story high palisade, broken by an archway where the causeway
intersected it. 

	Once they passed through the archway, they found
themselves before a statue of Kuranes, dressed in far more
regal garb than he had worn when they met him, holding a
sword in one hand, point towards the ground, and a lit torch
in the other, held high.  From here, a traveler could sit
down on the nearby benches, enter the temple through its
great bronze doors, or circle around the building through
the narrow courtyard to see what lay on the other side. 

	Touji and Asuka simply sat down to rest their weary
feet.  "We take a coach back," Asuka said. 

	"Damn right." 

	Once their feet stopped hurting so much, they went
inside.  A great gallery spread out before them, with a
floor tiled in alternating blue and yellow, the walls
decorated with brightly colored geometric patterns.  It
swept forward for several hundred feet, then split off to
the left and right to curl along the outside wall, with two
great staircases rising to the second floor galleries at the
intersection.  The right wall by the entrance had three
doors, labeled 'privy', 'storage', and 'Curator'
respectively. 

	Hundreds of items were on display in the cases. 
Suits of armor from primitive furs to highly polished and
articulate suits of elaborately engraved plate armor lined
the walls, forming a progression from the simple near the
doors to the two suits of plate armor that stood sentinel at
the stairs.  Paintings of ethereally beautiful landscapes,
brave knights, and contented farmers competed for space
along the walls with cleverly woven tapestries showing birds
flying, fish swimming, fields growing, and the tales of gods
and men. 

	Four rows of display cases ran the length of the
hall, containing coins of many realms, cunningly carven
jewels, well wrought jewelry, rods, scepters and crowns. 
They alternated with statuary, from baked clay to marble to
gold and steel.  The statuary ran the gamut from busts of
men, women, gods, monsters, and demons to full statues,
life-sized, or in two cases, far greater than life-sized. 

	Near the entrance to the museum was a fifteen foot
statue of a handsome man clad in Grecian robes, holding a
lantern aloft in his left hand.  His curly locks were kept
out of his eyes by a headband, and his gaze was stern.  His
eyes were long and narrow, his ears long-lobed, his nose
thin, and his chin more pointed than is typical among men. 
Carven of pure white marble, he looked dignified. 

	At the far end, near the stairs, stood another
fifteen foot tall statue, this one carven from the rose-
tinted marble characteristic of Serannian.  She too wore
clothing in the style of ancient Greece, though her ensemble
included a long spear, a helmet with a pushed up visor
carven to resemble a terrible face, and a large shield
emblazoned in gold with the Elder Sign, which protected her
left side from shoulders to just above her knees.  Large
eyed, with a strong nose, she had curly shoulder-length
hair, and she smiled triumphantly towards the front doors of
the museum. 

	Touji stood for a few seconds, just staring at
everything in shock.  "I could, like...buy my own city with
all this stuff." 

	"King Kuranes could build his own Tokyo-3 if he
wanted one."  Asuka headed for the curator's door.  "Take a
look around; I'll go consult the staff." 

	Touji quickly discovered the museum had one annoying
trait...nothing was labeled.  Apparently you were supposed
to just know what it all was.  Still, it was full of
beautiful things. 

	A young woman, perhaps only a year or two older than
him, approached Touji, clad in a simple blue robe.  She had
long brown hair braided to run down her back, and soft blue
eyes.  Her skin was coppery, and her complexion was one of
the best he'd ever seen in someone still a teenager.  She
wore a bronze bracelet wrought to resemble interlaced
feathers on each wrist.  "Can I be of service?" she asked. 

	"Yeah, we came here to see if you had any maps that
show the way to Aldebaran.  We have to find...we're on a
quest."  He felt weird telling someone he was looking for
Kensuke's soul. 

	"Ahh, the map room.  If you'll come with me?"  She
turned to go. 

	He thought about getting Asuka, but decided he'd
rather be with someone nice for a while.  "Let's go.  My
name is Suzuhara Touji." 

	"I'm Gwenhwyfar.  Nice to meet you," she said. 
"This is my first year here, so I may not be able to find
what you want, but I'll do my best." 

	"Well, I'm new to all this too." 

	They soon reached the stairs, a little faster than
Touji would have thought it possible, and just as quickly
ascended them to the second story.  Just as they were about
to go right, they both heard several large thumps from a
nearby window.  Three Cherubim were battering at the window. 

	Gwenhwyfar froze in terror, while Touji drew his
sword and wished he knew how to use it.  The Cherubim stared
through the glass at him, transfixing him with their faceted
dark eyes.  He could see distorted reflections of his face,
warped into hideous shapes in them, and instinctively, he
stepped backwards.  Onto the stairs, which he then tumbled
halfway down. 

	It broke Gwenhwyfar's trance; she ran down the stars
shouting, "Curate Hartin!  Curate Hartin!  We're under
attack." 

	Once Touji got to his feet, he could see Asuka with
a balding, paunchy middle aged man in a simple blue robe,
belted with many pouches at the far end of the hallway. 
They had turned to face him, and now the man said, "What
kind of attack?" 

	The doors swung open silently, and four more
Cherubim flew in through them.  "THAT kind," Touji said,
pointing. 

	They spun, Asuka drawing her sword and cursing
loudly in German.  Curate Hartin hurled one of the pouches
to the ground, and sparkling powder erupted upwards from it
as he spoke several words which sounded familiar to Touji,
although he couldn't tell what they meant, other than
something about fire.  The powder erupted into flames,
catching two of the four assailants in the storm, searing
away their wings and sending them tumbling to the ground. 
Asuka engaged the third with her sword, and the fourth began
to fly the length of the hallway towards Gwenhwyfar and
Touji. 

	He stood, drawing his sword, losing track of what
now happened at the far end of the hall.  Desperately
summoning the handful of fantasy movies he'd ever seen to
mind, he got into what he hoped was a swordfighting stance. 
"Get behind me," he said to Gwenhwyfar. 

	"He can fly over you, you know," she said, but did
it anyway.  "If you can hold him off long enough, I can cast
a spell of strength upon you.  I mostly use it for moving
statues, but it should give you the might to easily deal
with it." 

	"Uh, right," Touji said.  The idea of having a spell
cast on him was rather creepy, and he couldn't quite make
himself believe it was real, although it wouldn't be too
much stranger than the other stuff he had seen of late. 

	The Cherubim came at him claws forward, attacking
rather clumsily, and he easily parried its assault, even
with his own minimal skill.  It then landed and started
trying to lunge at him repeatedly.  Several times he had to
give ground, but it didn't manage to even nick him. 

	Damn, I'm good, he thought, or else this one really
sucks.  His target had several nasty arm gashes from which
purple-black ichor slowly oozed, and he managed to give it a
nasty leg gash as well. 

	Behind him, Gwenhwyfar chanted, and suddenly he felt
a rush of energy he hadn't felt since the time he'd won a
one-on-one tournament four months earlier.  The feeling of
invincibility drove him forward. The Cherubim gave ground,
nearly losing an arm, then almost giving up a leg to a stab. 

	Just as he backed it up against the statue of the
warrior woman, the crystal window at the top of the stairs
shattered, the Cherubim breaking through.  One flew down the
stairs, while the other two peeled off down the rightward
corridor. 

	Touji cursed, unable to be in two places at once. 
Thus, he was relieved when Asuka darted forward and finished
off the one he was facing, freeing him to rush up the stairs
to meet the dive bombing Cherubim.  Claw and sword collided. 
He took out its left arm, but its momentum sent him tumbling
down the stairs again. It hurt worse this time, although as
they rolled along, the Cherubim absorbed some of the
impacts. 

	There was a shout, a bang, and a flash of light down
the gallery, then running footsteps approached.  He grappled
desperately with the creature, holding its right hand claws
just two inches from his eyes.  It was hard to grasp its
slick exoskeleton. 

	Damn you, he thought.  I'm not going to die.  Not
and let Asuka tell me I screwed up.  So you gotta die,
bastard. 

	With a mighty effort, he ripped off its right arm,
and a gout of the purplish ichor erupted from the stump.  It
howled loudly, and louder when Asuka stabbed it.  He tossed
it off his body, and said to Hartin, who now arrived, "This
doesn't happen often, does it?" 

	"Never these creatures before.  And rare it is to
see them by day, rare indeed.  Some great force must be
driving them on.  Can you stand?"  He offered Touji a hand. 

	Touji took it and stood up wobbily.  "Let's get to
it." 

	Asuka frowned at him for a moment, looked him over,
then nodded.  "Before they can cause more damage." 

	They found the Cherubim in the process of destroying
the map room, which was full of rare and valuable maps.  The
viewing tables were overturned, the guide book cast aside. 
Several vellum maps were torn from the wall, and one of the
Cherubim was eating every map he could grab. 

	Hartin spoke several words sharply, and Touji felt
his bones vibrate; it was not a fun feeling.  It was less
fun for the Cherubim, which turned a sickly gray color and
froze up, then began crumbling into powder.  The other
Cherubim paused in its devastation, then launched itself at
the foursome just beyond the doorway.  Asuka thrust her
sword into its head, and it fell to the ground, dead. 

	Gwenhwyfar stared at the devastation.  "So many
wonderful maps...gone in minutes.  And the rest are...this
is going to take forever to clean up." 

	Hartin nodded.  "Gwen, dispose of them.  I'll help
our guests try to find the map they need, if it survived." 
He turned to Touji and Asuka.  "Do you need help?" 

	"I'm fine," he said, then quietly slumped over and
passed out. 

                         -*-

	The map they wanted had been destroyed.  But all
hope was not yet lost, for several maps showing some of the
major routes among the stars had survived, and two of them
showed the way to their next destination, the Library at
Celeano, where a now gone, but once great civilization had
collected thousands of years of lore.  It was fabled for its
great Map of the Stars, a building dedicated entirely to
recording of the routes from world to world.  There, they
would definitely find the way to Aldebaran. 

	And so they boarded the ship, and slipped into bed
to rest from their long walks and the battle.  And with that
slumber, they slipped back into the waking world until when
next they would sleep again. 

                         -*-

	Misato strolled into the apartment looking like the
cat that not just ate the canary, but also gobbled up the
fish, chased off its rivals, and threw the dog off the
train.  Shinji could almost feel the chipperness radiating
from her like heat.  "Hiya, kids!" she announced.  "Feel
free to skip school today if you like.  I'll write you an
excuse if you need it.  In fact, why don't we hop a train
and go to the zoo or something?" 

	Asuka stared at her with bleary eyes.  "We just got
home from school." 

	"Oh, right.  Well, how about...hey, you don't look
so good." 

	"I didn't sleep very well," Asuka said. 

	"Where were you last night?"  Shinji asked.  "We
were pretty worried when you didn't come home." 

	Misato bounced over to the table.  "Well, I sort of
got stuck in an elevator with Kaji, and we started talking
about old times and...well, we're back together.  I was with
him."  She stretched.  "I haven't felt this energetic in
years!"  She stood back up.  "Anyone up for jogging or
something?"

	"No, I'm going to do my homework, eat dinner, and go
to bed,"  Asuka said bitterly.  She got up and stomped off. 

	"Geez, what's with...oh," Misato said. 

	"She ran off in the middle of the night last night
after she called you.  I had to look for her all over, and
if Rei hadn't found her, I might still be looking."  There
was just a hint of harshness in Shinji's voice.

	Misato frowned.  "I should talk to her." 

	"I think she needs to be left alone for a while." 
He stared off after her and sighed, then turned back to
Misato.  "But congratulations on you and Kaji getting back
together."

	"Well, then...Let's go for a walk.  I need to gush,
and you're handy."

                         -*-
 
	Hikari looked at Touji curiously as the two went for
a walk.  He seemed more solemn today than usual, though not
as bad as when Kensuke...

	"Hikari?"

	"Hm?"

	Shaken out of her daze, she looked around to where
they were.  He'd taken them back to that place, the grand
view of Tokyo-3, as the red sun cast the last of its light
on the distant horizon.

	Touji frowned, scratching the back of his head,
concentration wrinkling his brow.  It looked like he had
something to say, but didn't know how to say it.

	"I... er..."  He sighed, and to Hikari's surprise he
took her hands in his.  "Look, we're doin' some dangerous
stuff... I can't say much about it..."

	Actually, adventuring around in the Dreamworlds,
once he actually tried to say it out loud, sounded far more
stupid than he thought, so he decided that keeping it vague
was best.

	"Dangerous?" asked Hikari, her hands shaking
slightly.

	"I... look, I dunno how things'll go, but I just
wanted ya to know... er..."  A visible blush came over his
features as well as a nervous smile.  "I'm glad... I'm glad
we met."  He blinked, then frowned.  "Sounds cheezy, don't
it?  Man, I was hopin' I'd make it sound better. I-"

	Hikari silenced him with a finger over his lips.
She smiled, though there was worry in her eyes.  "I think
you said it just fine, Touji."  She embraced him, though in
a subdued way.  The last thing she wanted it to seem like
was a goodbye.

	Pulling herself back a bit, she kissed him on the
cheek, then whispered in his ear.  "Just come back to me."

	He walked her home, recieving one more kiss on the
cheek at her doorstep, then walked home alone with his
thoughts.  He whistled as he walked, suddenly feeling better
about everything in general.

	"Heck," he said to nobody in particular.  "That went
a lot better'n I thought it would."

	Now if only he could be with Hikari in his dreams
instead of that psycho euro-bitch Asuka...


                         -*-

	Shinji sat at the kitchen table, trying to think of
a clever way to get a handwriting sample from Rei without
asking her directly.  Ingenuity eluded him, however, and
after a while, he sighed and began drumming his fingers on
the table. 

	The rhythmic pounding soon attracted Misato's
attention from across the room, where she was watching
Baywatch:  The Next Generation.  "It's not a drum, Shinji," 
she said, then pointed at the TV.  "Now THAT is a fine
butt." 

	Shinji said, "If you needed to see what someone's
handwriting looked like without them knowing, how would you
find out?" 

	"I'd send my spies from Section Seven," Misato said. 
"They'd root through his garbage until they found a
scribbled note or something, and then they'd bring it to me. 
If we had time and it was important enough, we'd simply
arrange for someone from S7 to be hired to take over being
the garbage man for that route.  Trying to figure out who
your secret admirer is?" 

	"No."  Shinji shook his head. "No."  He paused. 
"Yes."  Shinji sighed.  "I think it's Rei." 

	"Makes sense, especially after reading them," 
Misato said. 

	Shinji turned beet red.  "You READ them?" 

	"Well, you left one lying around on the table, and I
just couldn't resist."  She giggled.  "If you want, I could
order her to 'fess up." 

	Shinji could see it happening in his mind's eye, and
he swiftly shook his head no.  "No, I just...I mean...if
it's not her, she'll look at me like I'm insane if I ask. 
You know Rei." 

	"Do you want it to be Rei?"  She came over and sat
down at the table with him, staring at him intently. 

	He stared at the table, trying to find the answer in
the wood grain.  While he could barely make out something
that looked sort of like the kanji for 'turtle', he doubted
that was the universe's way of offering him guidance.  "I
don't know.  I mean, I like her, but I don't know if I...  I
mean, when she smiles, it's really great, but I..."  He took
a moment to pull himself together.  "I don't know what I
want." 

	Misato reached over and ruffled his hair, triggering
protests.  "Don't wait too long to make up your mind.  I'll
get you a sample, okay?" 

	"Okay." 
	
                         -*-

	Touji nearly had a heart attack as he emerged into
the Dreaming, when he stepped out upon the deck of The
Morning Star. The ship was sailing through a dark void
dotted with stars.  Far behind them, he could see a
blue-green dot with a tiny white dot very close to it... was
that the Earth?

	The realization suddenly struck him.  He was in
space.  Not just in space, but further into space than any
other human had ever been that he knew of it.  It was
simulataneously the most terrifying moment of his life to
date, and the most incredibly cool.  Wait...shouldn't my
head be exploding? he asked himself.  Somehow he hadn't
really thought about this before, but he was pretty sure you
couldn't just breathe in space. Maybe it's some kind of
magic, he thought. 

	A flash of red caught the corner of his eye.  It was
Asuka.  "It's beautiful," she said softly. 

	"Yeah.  Although part of me wonders when the
Tie-Fighters are gonna attack." 

	Asuka laughed.  "Far too soon, I'm sure."  She waved
an arm, embracing a large segment of the sky.  "There's so
many stars you can't see from Earth.  I'm not sure if it's
just because there's no light here to get in the way of
seeing them, or if the skies of the Dreamlands are really
different." 

	"It's just fun to look at," Touji said. 

	And for a while, they simply lost themselves in the
stars. 

                         -*-

	Cherubim attacked twice along the way, but both
times the crew fought them off with arrows and swords and
magic.  Each time, the commander grew more concerned and
grumpy. 

	Seven great stars gradually came to dominate the
view ahead, each shaded bluish-white, and swiftly, one of
them came to dominate the view entirely.  They passed into
the environs of the fourth of the Pleiades, around which
circled seventeen worlds, with the fourth, Celeano itself,
being their target.  Brown and black land stood out starkly
from the purple seas, which dominated the world as they did
for Earth. Familiar looking ice caps tipped the top and
bottom of the planet, and purplish gray clouds hid much of
it from observation. 

	As the Captain brought the ship down into the
atmosphere, Touji asked Asuka, "So what kind of people live
on this world?" 

	"They're all dead," Asuka said.  "There was a war
between this world and some other one tens of thousands of
years ago, or maybe longer, and the people of Celeano were
wiped out.  But their library has survived, preserved by
their magic, and it's said that the Elder Gods watch over it
and add to its lore.  You can copy stuff, but supposedly
some sort of guardian eats anyone who tries to steal
anything." 

	"How are we gonna read anything in it?  They didn't
speak Japanese, did they?" 

	"..." 

	Touji began to laugh.  "Hah!  You didn't think of
that, little miss genius!" 

	"Well, I speak three different languages of the
Dreamlands, and I know other people have come here and..." 
Asuka sounded rather nervous. 

 	"I'm gonna kick your ass if it turns out this was a waste
of time."  Touji's grin belied his words. 

	Asuka made no reply. 

                         -*-

	The ocean was strangely calm, a great placid sea,
with a hugely powerful smell of brine that made Touji gag. 
He lost his lunch when they landed, and then threw up most
of his other meals for the day it took to reach the great
docks that stretched along the shore. 

	He jumped off the boat before it finished mooring,
happy to be on nice, solid ground.  Asuka swiftly followed
him, and with a party of four sailors who were curious, they
approached the library. 

	It was hewn of solid granite, designed to endure
rather than be beautiful.  Two huge pools of brackish purple
water sat on either side of the hundred foot long causeway
that ran up to the front doors, each a good fifteen feet
wide with large bronze pull-rings for opening. Unknown runes
were etched over the door, and upon the doors were written
(in Kanji) 'Great Library of Celeano.  Enter, stranger, and
learn the wisdom of the ages, but do not take what is not
yours.  The Truth is a double-edged sword; be careful it
does not turn in your hands.  Present the Sign of the
Guardians and enter.' Under the words, an Elder Sign had
been carven into each of the doors. 

	"Sign of the Guardians?" 

	Asuka pulled out a roughly circular chunk of stone
with an Elder Sign etched into it.  It flashed, and the
doors began to open.  "The Elder Gods are sometimes refered
to as the Guardians.  I have no idea what they're guarding,
other than this place." 

	The library was vast, a huge endless array of
pillars, tables, chairs, and shelf after shelf of books,
scrolls, tomes, pamphlets, carven tablets, etched hides, and
every other form of data storage that the ingenuity of a
thousand times a thousand races has invented.  Some
long-gone scholar had left a pile of strings of brightly
colored beads on a table next to a rolled up cowhide scroll,
and another had apparently been puzzling over several sheets
of vellum covered with dots in distorted pentagonal
patterns.  A third table held a crystal cylinder, a good two
and a half feet high, in which a dense pattern of brightly
colored dots shimmered. 

	"Somebody ought to hurry up and invent card
catalogs," Touji said, looking around the mess. 

	Asuka tinysweated.  "This could take a while." 

	"Well, at least someone spoke enough Japanese to
write that on the door," Touji said, then scratched his
head.  "I wonder how anyone else ever read it?" 

	"Many languages merge into one here," Asuka said. 
"Well, I guess now we go to work." 

                         -*-

	The four sailors had scattered about the Library,
vanishing amidst the stacks, while Touji and Asuka wandered
about, trying to figure out where the maps could be.  While
Touji had stumbled on some Asterix comics translated into
Japanese, these weren't much use.  There were signs
everywhere which probably gave directions on how to find
things, but the runic system was completely unfamiliar to
Asuka. 

	Touji finally sat down at a table and began to pound
on it.  "Dammit!  This is freaking ridiculous!  We're never
gonna find the maps, and if we do, we probably won't be able
to read them." 

	"That's probably true," one of the sailors said.  He
was tall and swarthy, with muscular arms and a thick
moustache.  He wore a black tunic and brown trousers, along
with a golden sphinx medallion.  "It wasn't too smart coming
all the way out here without being able to speak Aklo." 

	Asuka fumed.  Touji nodded wearily.  "Yeah.  So all
the help signs are in this Aklo thing?" 

	"Indeed.  A collection of Serpent People scholars
put them up millions of years ago to aid themselves in
searching the library, and no one's ever had the resources
or time to supplement them with less dead languages."  The
sailor leaned against one of the stacks.  "Only sorcerors
and the last degenerate remnants of the once proud Serpent
People speak it now.  But sorcerors tend to have their own
agendas and the Serpent People would never help you.  And
neither of them is handy, even if they would.  I suppose
you'll have to go home, unless you plan to stay here for
centuries, searching.  The Library is far larger on the
inside than the outside, and untold eons of lore have
accumulated here...not that anyone remembers how to read
most of it."  He plucked what looked rather like a lava lamp
off a shelf.  "Like this.  Humans were hiding from dinosaurs
when the Xicillians died out.  You have to have electron
vision to read one of these things." 

	"You know a lot for a sailor," Asuka said. 

	"Hey, sailors go everywhere, see everything," the
man said.  "I've walked on thousands of worlds, and seen
civilizations rise and fall.  In the end, everything
crumbles to dust, leaving only nicknacks like this. And even
the nicknacks are eventually lost."  He put it back on the
shelf.  "Do you know why this place was made?" 

	"It was the great repository of all the lore of
Celeano, right?" Asuka asked.  "And I don't suppose you read
Aklo?" 

	"Yes, I do," he said.  "This library was intended to
preserve their lore, so that one day, their patron gods
could avenge their death.  They knew they were going to die,
but they hoped someone would get revenge for them.  So, they
sealed the building against all the forces of the gods who
had helped Xoth to bring them down, against the Five
Champions of the Outer Gods as well, and all their servants,
with the seal of their foremost goddess, N'tse-Kaambl, the
so-called, 'Shatterer of Worlds'."  He gave a long, healthy
laugh.  "Such a grandiose title for one who has never once
succeeded in permanently stopping the plans of the Outer
Gods.  To the extent they can be said to have any 'plans',
rather than simply doing the bidding of their natures.  But
I'm beginning to ramble." 

	"Can you translate these signs for us?"  Asuka asked
eagerly.  "King Kuranes would reward you well if you aided
us!" 

	"King Kuranes cannot even reward himself," the
sailor said.  "He created a paradise for himself, and now he
has sickened of it, living in a pathetic recreation of the
town of his childhood.  Yet he knows that is but a pretense,
and that he is clinging to a past which cannot save him. 
And in the end, even changeless Celephais will know change
and decay, for nothing, especially dreams, lasts forever." 

	"There's got to be SOMETHING we can offer you,"
Asuka said. 

	He stroked his chin.  "How about your body?" 

	Asuka's eyes widened, and she instinctively crossed
her arms in front of her breasts.  "No way!" 

	"Well, if your dignity is more important than the
soul of your friend..."  He turned and picked up another one
of the lava lamps and stared at it for a moment.  "Whoever
wrote this was a horrible poet." He tossed it aside, but it
bounced instead of breaking.  He watched it bounce, seeming
surprised for an almost infintesimal moment. 

	"You...you can't demand something like that!"  Touji
said. 

	"Yeah, what he said!"  Asuka shouted. 

	"She'd probably kill you accidentally, and it
wouldn't be worth contaminating yourself in the process!" 

	"Kiss my ass, Touji!  No woman in her right mind
would do anything with you but KICK YOUR BUTT!" 

	"Ya damn KRAUT BITCH!"  They started to go at it
with the furniture while the sailor casually began examining
the shelves. 

	Touji rather quickly got the worst of it as Asuka
jumped onto a table and did a flying kick at his head,
sending him crashing into a shelf.  Dozens of shelves
cascaded downward, sending hundreds, maybe thousands of
information storage devices flying. 

	Touji crawled out of the wreckage and began hurling
stone tablets at her, which she dodged desperately. 

	They would likely have beaten each other unconscious
if one of the Aklo signs hadn't hit Asuka in the head, after
Touji threw it at her. It then dropped into her hands, and
for just a moment, she understood what it meant.  'Biology',
it said.  With the knowledge came a memory. 

	She was in a chilly classroom with a high dome,
surrounded by several dozen of her fellow students, writing
runes with a blue crystal pen which kept slipping between
her gray-green fingers.  It was another boring series of
exercises in writing characters over and over again, just
like all the other ones which Y'geeth-sensei always made
them do.  So utterly boring, when she ought to be out
fighting monsters.  When would I ever use this backwater
language, anyway? she asked herself. 

	And then the memory faded, and she was Asuka Langely
again, not sure at all who she had just been or if she
wanted to find out.  Touji was staring at her.  "I didn't
give you a concussion or something, did I?"  he asked. 

	"Touched by an Angel, you have been," the sailor
said, smirking.  "And it's left pieces of itself behind, I
see.  Or perhaps more precisely, you ate his soul.  And
liked it." 

	"What the fuck are you talking about?"  Touji asked. 

	Asuka spun.  "You know about the Angels?" 

	"Did you think you were the only people to travel
from dream to waking and back again?" he asked.  "The Second
Child and the Fourth.  In the waking world, you pilot an EVA
if not very well." 

	Asuka frowned.  "I have yet to lose a fight!" 

	"Because Rei and Shinji save you." 

	"I bet the second Angel BY MYSELF!" 

	"A five year old with an EVA could have beaten
Rhan-Tegoth," the sailor said.  "Touji could have done it. 
Without losing his EVA's hand." 

	"He did look pretty sad," Touji said.  "Just an
angry koosh-ball." 

	"So, who ARE you?" Asuka asked.  "If you're Shinji's
dad, I'm gonna kick your ass!" 

	The sailor laughed so hard he fell down.  "Names
have power, and should not be lightly given away.  But you
may call me Ishmael, and I will call you Asuka Souleater,
for that is what you are.  Perhaps within the shards you
contain, you might find the answers you seek.  Of course,
opening yourself to such an experience would likely shatter
your mind to tiny shards, for you have talent, but lack
skill." 

	"Will you PLEASE explain what the hell you're
talking about?"  Touji asked. 

	And Asuka understood.  Somehow, one of the beings
she'd defeated knew Aklo, and Ismael knew it was now buried
inside her.  But if she opened herself to it...She had to
take the chance.  Even if it meant...she didn't want to
think about what it meant. 

	She took the tablet and willed herself to remember
what it meant. What they all meant.  The world dropped away,
and there was only the tablet and the memories she could not
accept but desperately needed.  A sea of stars surrounded
her, and every star was a memory.  A cluster of stars blazed
in the distance; they were the memories she desired.  But
she could not reach them without touching other stars, and
as she did so, memories she refused to claim surfaced. 

	She stepped, and she was above a great city of blue
stone, raining down death, and laughing as all who gazed
upon her stiffened and became stone.  Another step, and she
was surrounded by the cold of space, half slumbering over
the centuries it took to make the journey from one world to
another, dimly aware of a thousand times a thousand buzzing
pinkish tiny creatures who had the delusion they could
exploit her.  A third step, and she swam through the yellow
sulferous waters of a world now long burnt to cinders,
enjoying the feeling of the current against her skin. 

	A fourth step, and she was running through a
blizzard, driving a great storm before herself into a
village, then watching as each and every one of its
inhabitants turned blue and froze to ice, then melted in the
sun when she withdrew her power.  A fifth step, and she was
leaping between the worlds, riding the winds of space,
feeling her skin prickle at the touch of the rays which only
she could see.  A sixth step, and she was driving a ylithri
sled, whipping the blue-skinned ylithri to make them move
their six legs faster, so the word could get out that the
great cold was moving south to devour another land. 

	A seventh step, and she sat slumbering in a temple,
surrounded by pathetic but tasty pets who brought her food
and praised her.  Their praise meant nothing, but it was
pleasing anyway, to one who had known little praise.  The
memories came faster, and the steps began to falter. 
 An eighth step, and she feasted upon one of her rivals,
sucking out his juices, and enjoying every succulent drop. 
It was growing harder to go on, but somewhere, someone took
a ninth step.  There was war, a battle of godlings that set
the forests alight, and poisoned the seas and tainted the
air.  Her pawns had fallen, becoming dried out husks,
devoured by the damnable Shelob, who she had always hated. 
Now, now she would have to flee. 

	More steps, more memories, memories that agreed
neither with each other nor with those of the one whose body
continued to step forward, or perhaps it was only the shadow
of that body, in a space not a space.  She drove the ice
forward and watched the dinosaurs die, hunting the
survivors.  She tricked a race of crustaceans into bearing
her from a dying world to one full of life and apt to her
purposes.  At her command, mortals made war and slaughtered
one another for her amusement as she dreamed, full and
bloated, upon a great altar.  Dozens of worlds and hundreds
of races drifted by, most of them destroyed and gone when
humans were still hiding from giant lizards. 

	Change, change, change, all was change, ceaseless
and seemingly purposeless.  Endless wars and struggles and
catasrophes without ceasing, the war of men against men and
god against god and gods against men.  And behind it all,
the lurking fear that fortune would turn, and the high whose
memories she possessed would be cast down, just as fortune
had raised them up. 

	If the trip had been longer, or the knowledge she
sought more obscure, she would have fallen beneath the tide
of memories, unable to retain her self, but purpose drove
her on, and many of them held the knowledge she sought.  So,
she grabbed a fist full of light, and Aklo, a language older
than man, older than the serpent men who mastered it, older
than those whose memories she held, a language in which
every word had power, flooded into her mind. 

	Touji was shaking her.  "What the hell are you
doing?  If you go mad, I'm gonna kick your ass to the MOON
when we wake up!  Even if I have to break into the asylum to
do it." 

	Asuka simply stared at Ishmael, then said, "Asuka
one, Gods zero."  Turning back to Touji, she said shakily,
"Okay, let's go get the map."  The other memories ebbed, and
she walled them off, but resolved she would have to try and
figure out all the things she'd seen later. 

	Touji stared over at the man.  "So who the hell are
you?  And what's this about 'souleating'?" 

	Ishmael grinned.  "You'll find out soon enough." 

	He followed them through the stacks to a dusty pile
of maps.  Oddly, there was a gap in the maps which had no
dust in it. 

	"Someone took one," Asuka said. 

	A quick search and a check of the nearby index
revealed it was exactly the map they wanted.  "This sucks,"
Touji said. 

	The sound of screaming drifted across the library,
and a great snapping sound like a gunshot reverberated
through the stacks.  "What the..." 

 	"Hunting Horrors," Ishamael said.  "Once the sun set, they
descended on the ship and are destroying it." 

	Asuka drew her sword.  "Shit.  I don't know if I can
beat one of those...I've heard they're pretty tough.  Touji,
you'd better stay here so you don't get killed." 

	"Hey, I can take care of myself!  I ain't no fine
china!"  Touji drew his sword and wished he'd had more time
to learn to use it. 

	"Can you fight eight of them?"  Ishmael asked. 

	Asuka paled.  "EIGHT?" 

	Ishmael cocked his head slightly.  "My error. 
Nine." 

	Asuka paled.  "Perhaps I can divert them long enough
for everyone to take refuge in here and we can bar the
doors..." 

	"Perhaps we can make a little deal," Ishamael said. 
"I don't really care if the crew lives or dies...it's the
two of you I'm interested in.  Swear to serve me, and I'll
let them live.  I'll even give you the map you need for your
quest."  He brandished it for a moment, and then it was gone
again. 

	"Are you Satan or something?"  Touji asked. 

	Ishmael laughed loudly.  "I am no demon, but an
angel in the oldest sense, a messenger, the voice and herald
of the Outer Gods.  I speak and articulate their will.  They
wish you to serve them, and you will.  It is your destiny. 
Your only choice is whether you will serve them in chains
and suffer, or serve them willingly and benefit from your
service.  For their will cannot be denied." 

	"Sounds like Satan to me," Touji said, folding his
arms.  "Sorry, dude, but I'm a Buddhist.  I ain't got
nothing to do with your war on your creator or whatever. 
You can have Asuka's soul, though." 

	"HEY!" 

	"I am not Satan," Ishmael said.  "He is but a
shadow, a twisted reflection of me.  I serve my creators
faithfully and I am beyond your petty definitions of good
and evil.  I am one with the true powers of the universe,
far greater than the petty, spiteful tribal god you humans
sought to elevate to be the creator of all that is." 

	"Yeah, yeah, and if we call now, we can get a free
guide to how to make paper-mache houses as a bonus gift with
the sale of our soul,"  Touji said. "I ain't dumb enough to
sell my soul, because demons always cheat ya.  And if we
really had no choice, you wouldn't bother asking."  He
turned to Asuka, "Whip out a cross and send him back to hell
so we can go try and save our boat." 

	Asuka tried to remember where she'd heard of a
herald of the Outer Gods before, but couldn't quite think of
his name or what he was known for.  The Outer Gods were the
protectors of the Great Ones, she knew that much.  Thinking
about it made the memories she didn't want try to swarm
against their mental dam, so she gave up on it.  "I don't
think he's a vampire, Touji." 

	"A cross is nothing but a bit of wood or stone or
metal.  Go ahead and try to banish me.  It will avail you
not." 

	"Right.  Let's go," Touji said, taking off running. 

	Asuka nodded and ran after him. 

	"Hey, you can't just IGNORE ME!" Ishmael shouted. 

	They did. 

	When they ran out the doors, they could see the
remains of the boat collapsing into splinters, along with a
fair number of the docks. Crushed and flattened bodies were
tossed about the shore and causeway. A headless corpse
floated chest down in one of the pools to one side of the
doors.  Nine five foot wide, sixty foot long serpents with
bat wings were flying about, picking off the last of the
surviving sailors.  The Captain's upper torso was on one of
the docks, while his bottom half was sticking out of the
mouth of one of the creatures. 

	Touji had to choke back the bile that erupted out of
his throat. Asuka swore up a storm, and tears streamed from
her eyes.  She started to charge forward, but Touji grabbed
her arm.  "We can't fight all those...whatever the fuck they
are." 

	Footsteps echoed behind them, and Ishmael stepped
out, holding the map.  "I can get them to bear you where you
wish to go, if you will swear to serve me.  If not, they
will slay you, and your friend's soul will remain in the
hands of the King in Yellow forever, for if you die, you may
never return to the Dreamlands." 

	They turned to face him, and unseen by any of the
trio, the two pools began to bubble and churn.  Touji said,
"No way in hell.  Demons always cheat.  You won't give us
what we really want." 

	Asuka nodded.  "We can hide in the library if we
have to.  Now that I can read everything I might find some
way to get us there without needing the boat."  She pointed
her sword at him.  "And I won't let you stop us from..." 

	She was interrupted by huge suckered green and blue
tentacles erupting from the two pools.  They slammed the
doors of the library shut, then wrapped about Ishamel's arms
and legs, lifting him into the air and suspending him with
his limbs fully extended. 

	Asuka backed up.  "The guardian.  We've got to get
out of here until it calms down!" 

	"Where the hell are we gonna go?" 

	"Follow me!"  They ran, leaving Ishamael gibbering
in a tongue they did not understand, but which made them
feel ill just to listen to it. To Asuka, it sounded like
Aklo, but older yet, the language of which Aklo itself was
but a shadow. 

                         -*-

	Down the beach they ran, into a highly rocky area,
full of huge boulders and tons of gravel.  They could see
the library down the beach;  four of the winged serpents
were attacking the guardian, while two more finished off the
boat, and three chased Touji and Asuka.  "Well, at least we
have better odds," Asuka said as they wended through the
maze of rocks. 

	"We shoulda stayed in Celephais and organized a pool
tournament,"  Touji muttered.  "Got any more ways to get us
in trouble?" 

	"Hello, Asuka," a white furred cat said.  He was fat
and lazy looking, sitting up on a rock. 

	Asuka spun.  "Hey, you look just like..." 

	"I haven't forgotten the time you put laxatives in
my dinner," the cat said, idly licking a paw.  "But Oscar
likes you because he's a fool for love, and the Mother of
All Cats wishes to speak with you, so despite the fact that
I'd rather you get eaten, you're taking a trip." 

	More cats began to emerge from the rocks, calicoes
and persians and maltese and turquoise and turtleshelled and
pitch black.  Male and female they came, a gathering tide of
cats by the hundreds and thousands.  Far above them, the
onrushing Hunting Horrors hesitated, circling and watching. 

	Touji stared at Asuka.  "What are you meowing at a
cat for?  And what the hell is this cat doing here and why
aren't we running for our...hey, where did all these cats
come from?"  They musta put drugs in my LCL or something, he
concluded.  And now I'm tripping. 

	"We will answer her summons gladly," Asuka said. 
"Take us to her." 

	"Asuka, stop meowing!"  The cats were rubbing
against Touji's legs and trying to jump onto his shoulders. 
"Kick cat butt?  Yes or no?"  Great, the Kraut's finally
snapped, Touji thought.  What a fucking lousy way to go. 

	The cat pointed a paw at the Hunting horrors. 
"Kill."  Cats streamed out of the rocks, leaping into the
air, and landing all over the trio of horrors, digging their
fangs and claws into the creatures. The horrors toppled as
they vanished in the midst of scratching, biting, clawing
patchwork clouds of diversely colored fur.  For a moment,
Touji thought he saw a purple cougar, a red mountain lion,
and a strangely man-like lion among the attacking felines. 

	And then the cats were all around him, an ocean of
fur, surrounding his body.  His feet came off the ground,
and he felt movement.  He panicked and tried to scream, but
he couldn't draw breath with a cat back pressed to his
mouth.  Tiny bites and accidental scratches covered his
body, as leaping cats clung to him, carrying him in an
incredibly unpleasant way.

	He tried to push them off, but he couldn't move,
couldn't cry out, couldn't breathe, couldn't do anything but
exist and howl inside his head.  He was moving, faster and
faster, carried by the cats to who knows where. 

	And then it was over, and the cats poured off him,
washing across the ribbon of grass along side the vast river
that flowed along off to his left.  Ahead of him stood a
great palace made of white marble run through with rose
bands.  It had a great portico, which was full of cats
lounging about and enjoying the bright sun light, and beyond
the portico were doors of gold covered with hieroglyphs,
each of which had a ground level swinging cat door. 

	Across the river, a second ribbon of grass stretched
out for nearly a mile, and beyond that was gray sandy
desert, and in the distance, a great rising mass of
mountains.  Indeed, as Touji turned about, he could see they
were inside a huge, roughly circular valley, perhaps fifteen
or twenty miles across, divided by the great river which
plunged down from the mountains into the valley and plunged
into a great cave maw at the far end of it.  Other temples
dotted the valley as well, and far to the north, near the
water falls, there was a village around the largest of the
temples. 

	Touji glanced over at Asuka.  "Uh...tell the cats
thanks, I guess." 

	"Moron-boy thanks you," Asuka said to the cat.  "And
I thank you. And I'm sorry about the laxatives.  If I'd
known you were intelligent..." 

	"I often say that about humans," the flabby persian
said.  "It's often hard for me to tell." 

	They stared at each other, and then a great bell
rang from the interior of the temple.  "You are summoned by
the Mother of All Felines," the persian said.  "I'd suggest
taking a moment to lick yourself clean or even use the
river, though.  You both look wretched." 
 
	They went over and splashed water on their faces and
cleaned off the sweat and grime as best they could.  Touji
clumsily combed his hair, and Asuka brushed her hair
swiftly, and they both wished their clothing wasn't ripped
and torn, and then they turned, and went to meet the Mother
of all Felines. 

                         -*-

	There was a second porch, more of a courtyard beyond
the great golden doors, its ceiling open to the sky, the
black and white tiled floor covered with every kind of cat
Touji had ever seen, and a lot of odd kinds he hadn't.  In
the middle of the room, there was a long white velvet couch,
and upon it lay a mostly naked woman with the head of a
brown furred cat, upon which brow could be seen a silver
tiara set with several gems.  The remainder of her body was
quite human.  Sandals lay on the ground near her feet, and
great golden bracers circled each wrist and forearm, while a
soft white cotton skirt covered her from waist to just above
her knees.  A black oval shield embossed in gold with a
lion's head lay propped against the couch by her left hand,
and a quiver of javelins near her right.  Other than that,
she was naked unless you counted her two dozen or so golden
and silver necklaces that ran down into the valley between
her two small, bare breasts.  A few feet to her right, a
lioness was curled up, apparently asleep. 

	Touji turned his head aside; staring at half-naked
goddesses was a good way to die, from the stories he'd
heard, although he couldn't resist sneaking another peak. 

	Asuka bowed her head, and tried to remember what
Egyptians did to be courteous, but had no idea whatsoever. 
"Um...you called?" 

	The woman sat up, and smiled.  "Come into my parlor,
said the spider to the fly."  She looked them up and down,
then said, "Are all men of the waking world so bashful these
days?" 

	"Touji's just a spineless coward.  Don't mind him,"
Asuka said. "He's just my squire, anyway." 

	"I AM NOT YOUR DAMN SQUIRE!"  Touji said.  "Unlike
you, I know goggling at goddesses is a good way to die
screaming!" 

	Bast laughed.  "I do not mind.  If I did not wish
people to gaze upon me, I would wear more clothing.  But it
is wise of you to be cautious, for you could not know that. 
Come, and I will have a meal brought for you, and then we
must go, for you are summoned before the Great Ones of
Earth." 

	Asuka's eyes widened.  "We are?  Why?" 

	"The Time of Troubles is upon us, and the fate of
all the dreams of mankind lie in the balance.  You are among
the Chosen, who will save humanity or destroy it.  I will
say no more, for there are others who can tell this tale
better than I." 

	Touji spent the entire meal wishing she'd left the
little she had said to others to tell as well. 

                         -*-

	Kadath stands atop a great mountain, a beautiful
palace carven of every kind of stone, and decorated to
delight the senses, the air filled with the sweet smell of
perfume, constantly serenaded by an endless, delightful
symphony.  Deep within it stands a great hall, its ceiling
held a hundred feet in the air by twelve elaborately carven
pillars, each symbolizing one of the signs of the Zodiac. 
The walls are covered with mosaics of the mighty deeds of
the Great Ones, and the huge bronze doors are sealed with
the Elder Sign.  The floor is tiled like an arching rainbow,
and at the far end from the doors, there are twelve chairs,
each carven from a single huge and perfect gemstone, sitting
atop a dias of pure jade. 

	Six men and six women sat in those chairs, gazing
down upon Touji and Asuka, who both felt like they were
going to melt.  Bast had garbed them in simple white robes,
belted at the waist, but they both felt naked before the
gaze of these beings, and they'd both kneeled instinctively. 

	They knew some of them.  Bast sat among them, as did
a god and goddess who resembled the huge statues from King
Kuranes' museums, except for being alive and smaller. 
Another woman reminded Touji of Kuan Yin, or at least how
she looked at the shrine he'd gone to a few times.  And the
one who was on fire looked like a statue King Kuranes had
kept near the fireplace.  Asuka recognized Nath-Hortath, a
blonde man with jet-black skin and pupiless silver eyes, the
patron of Celephais. 

	The rest were unfamiliar to them, although most of
them stirred vague recognition in Asuka's mind.  Especially
the one with the silver arm who sat in the highest chair. 
She started and recognized him.  It was the librarian from
the Great Library. 

	He smiled at her and said, "Rise, Children, for the
blood of gods flows in your veins, and you have the right to
stand among us." 

	Touji twitched.  "What?"  He got up, though. 
Kneeling was making his knees hurt. 

	The man with the lantern spoke.  "You are the
Children spoken of in prophecy when this world was still
young and mighty Eibon studied his lore and gazed into the
future.  The old blood is strong within your veins, stirred
to waking that you might face those who once ruled the Earth
and seek to rule it again, the Angels as you call them. 
Some of us are the dreams of men, and others have simply
been adopted by humanity, but none of us wish to see your
race perish, at the hands of the lesser Angels.  Only with
words can we aid you in the waking world, but here in the
Dreamlands, we can give aid to you, for you are blood of our
blood, flesh of our flesh, though we know not how." 

	"Wait, wait a minute,"  Touji said.  "You saying one
of you is one of my parents, but you don't know WHO?" 

	The man shook his head.  "Once, when the world was
younger, many of us walked between the worlds.  Some of us
do it still."  He glanced over at the silver-armed man. 
"Many times, we have taken lovers among your race, and our
blood still surfaces at times.  And now, the music of the
spheres sings of a new age, and calls you to wakefulness,
you who will have the power to either save or damn the
Earth, though we know not how, nor why it is you who were
chosen, save that you have our power, and the potential to
become like us." 

	"Or like your enemies," the spear carrying woman
said.  "This is but one of the many tests, trials, and
temptations you will face, but this is the one where we can
help you instead of just watching, though even here, there
are limits to what we may do.  But we will aid you as much
as we can." 

	The man with the lantern handed it to Asuka.  "I am
Ariel, seeker of truth, and this is my lantern, which light
drives out all lies." 

	A burly man with short brown hair and a thick beard,
clad in hunting leathers, stepped forward and handed his
spear to Touji.  "I am Orion the Hunter.  This is my spear,
which never misses and always strikes true.  While you bear
it, it will answer to no master but you until you willingly
pass it along." 

	 Touji took it nervously, and prayed he wouldn't
accidentally leave it somewhere. 

	The man wreathed in red and orange flames stepped
forward and handed his great bronze sword to Asuka.  Flames
continued to lick along the blade, until she put it into the
scabbard he handed to her.  "I am Karakal, Lord of Flame. 
Whatever you strike with my sword shall burn." 

	She bowed and hung it from her belt. 

	The woman with the Elder Sign upon her shield
stepped forward.  "I am N'tse-Kaambl, the Shatterer of
Worlds, and I give to you my shield, upon which is the sign
of the Elder Gods, the emblem of our power.  It will never
break." 

	He took it and bowed.  "Thanks." 

	A slightly flabby old man with long white hair,
wearing a simple blue robe, walked up to them, examined each
of them, then handed to Touji a plain clay jug, stoppered
shut.  It sloshed as he walked, and it felt heavy enough to
be quite full.  "I am Oukranos, and this jug I give to you,
which will never run dry, for it partakes of my essence." 
He smiled faintly.  "I'd suggest keeping it away from
Karakal's sword." 

	Finally, the man with the silver arm, now clad in a
bright blue tunic and brown leggings stepped forward.  "I am
Nuada, also called Nodens, and to you I give the gift to
travel to Aldebaraan and return."  He handed a whistle to
Asuka, wrought of silver like his arm.  "This whistle will
call my nightgaunts to bear you to Aldebaraan and return you
to the Dreamlands of Earth when you are ready to depart." 

	Asuka and Touji bowed.  "Thank you for everything,"
Asuka said.  "We graciously accept your succor." 

	"So what's it going to cost us?"  Touji said. 
"Nobody does nothing for free." 

	"Who is paying you to go on your quest?" Ariel asked
him sharply. 

	Touji froze up like a deer in headlights. 

	"Your blood is ours," Nodens said.  "Your enemies
are our enemies. Perhaps the words of Nylarathotep are true,
that the coming of the Outer Gods and their servants, the
Angels, cannot be resisted.  Perhaps the age of man is over,
and winter will settle upon all things, the winter many of
us fled to Earth to escape.  But we will not surrender. 
Every victory, however tiny, is still a victory.  Certainly,
we cannot win if we do not fight." 

	"He comes," a blind woman, with a bandage round her
eyes and a set of scales in one hand, announced.  "You must
go now, before Nylarathotep finds you." 

	"Who's this Nylarathotep person?"  Touji asked as
Asuka blew upon the whistle. 

	"The Crawling Chaos, the Travelling Man, the Blind
Ape of Truth, the Bloody Tongue, and many other titles, he
is known by," the blind woman said.  "He is the herald and
voice of the Outer Gods, both sane and insane, malevolent
and benevolent, a unity of contradictions.  He cannot be
denied, and yet he must be.  We are not ready to make war on
the Outer Gods, not yet, perhaps not ever, and so, if he
demands we hand you over, we dare not refuse, shameful
though it be.  But if you are already gone, then we can tell
him truthfully there is nothing we can do.  Go with our
blessing, and know that we will meet again.  I have seen
it." 

	And then the doors opened, and two human like
figures, each with long tales tipped with a sharp end like a
'spade' in a deck of cards and large bat-like wings flew in. 
They were faceless and voiceless, and normally, Asuka and
Touji would have fought them or fled.  Instead, they watched
the creatures land and bow to Nodens, then let themselves be
picked up by the creatures and carried out the door.  Touji
clung desperately to the spear and shield, and prayed he
wouldn't drop it somewhere in space.

	Once they were gone, all present turned to the blind
woman.  Ariel said, "You have forseen their safe return?" 

	"In one scale, they returned safely.  In the other,
they fell, and all the light of the world began to die. 
Upon these slender reeds, within whom our blood shines but
dimly, rides the future of us all.  It terrifies me." 

	"Within him, the blood is thin, but her blood
sings," Nath-Hortath said.  "And perhaps his will sing too
as he learns to hear its song.  I could feel his blood grow
a little stronger just from being near us. She will face the
winnowing soon, and he too will come to that, I believe." 

	"But will they survive it or will it break them?" 
Bast asked. 

	"I do not know," Nath-Hortath said.  "The power of
the Outer Gods is also strong within her.  Now I understand
the prophecy far better, and how the same children could be
the seed from which both salvation and damnation could
blossom in equal measure.  But for now, all we can do is
watch and wait." 

	"They are in the skies, rising towards the south,"
the blind woman said.  "It is in their hands now." 

                         -*-

	There are worse ways to travel through space than to
be firmly gripped by a faceless humanoid with bat wings and
a tail that ends with a stinger, but Asuka and Touji hadn't
experienced any of them.  Space was cold, and the 'wind'
they experienced from the speed they were moving just made
it worse.  The nightgaunts were utterly silent, mile after
mile, hour after hour, leaving Asuka and Touji with only
each other for companions. 

	They had finished fighting hours ago, maybe days
ago, and now they rode in silence, broiling in their own
thoughts as they flew through the star-litten void.  The
stars seemed subtly wrong to Touji; some of them were in the
right places, but others had moved in ways he'd never seen
them move before.  I wish I had an in-flight movie, he
thought. 

	Then the music began, or perhaps it had always been
there and he'd just ignored it before.  It was soft and
rhythmic, like a beating of drums, or rain falling on a
metal roof, like the heartbeat of the universe.  It was
soothing in its regularity.  Soon, woodwinds began to join
in, and strings. 

	Asuka whispered, "Do you hear it?" 

	"Yeah," he said softly. 

	"It's the tune," she said. 

	"The tune to what?" 

	"I don't know.  Shinji and I played it during our
trip to America, but we couldn't remember where we'd heard
it before.  It's more complex like this, but...it's the same
tune." 

	The tune began to darken and become discordant, and
the night- gaunts banked to the left.  Slowly, the discords
evened out and the tune returned to normal.  Touji said, "Do
you think..." 

	"Maybe it's nightgaunt guidance radar or something,"
Asuka said weakly.  "But that doesn't explain why we can
hear it." 

	Far off to their right, a dot in the distance began
to grow, drifting past them as they rode along.  It was a
mishapen twisted thing, like a lizard bent nearly into a
circle, and fumbling at its own tail with stubby arms that
could not reach.  Its forehead was smooth, its eyes were
black voids reflecting the stars.  It glowed with a
yellow-green phosphoresence, and it was nearly a thousand
feet long with vestigial wings and a second stunted tail
that sprouted from mid-back. 

	As it passed them, they could hear the discord
faintly, with a crash of drums and the sound of a poorly
tuned violin.  Asuka winced, and the nightgaunts banked
further left until the discord ceased once more.  The
creature drifted on, as if it was floating in a current
which suddenly plunged, sending it dropping out of sight. 

	"What the..."  Touji finally said. 

	"Man, the SETI people would love this," Asuka said. 

	Time passed, and more twisted and warped creatures
drifted by, each heralded by shifts in the music they heard. 
"Geez, I feel like I'm on some kinda weird theme park ride. 
Freaks of Nature Land or something,"  Touji eventually said. 

	"They'd probably think we were freaks of nature,"
Asuka said. 

	"Well, they'd be right in your case, but..." 

	"Kiss my ass, squire," Asuka said. 

	"Kiss MY ass, ya Brautwurst-lovin' 'ho!" 

	Round and round the mulberry bush, pop goes the
weasel. 

                         -*-

	Aldebaraan finally came into view.  The huge
blue-white star sat off to their left, while the nightgaunts
banked right, heading for the fourth of the eight hunks of
rock which circled it.  Dark grey clouds shrouded much of
its surface, but around the equator and poles, the clouds
broke, revealing dark black splotches at the poles and large
amounts of brown land, divided into three continents.  The
largest was shaped roughly like a crescent moon, so far as
they could tell, with a long chain of mountains running from
west to east as its spine.  A huge black lake sat near the
edge of the mountains, running roughly north- south, shaped
like the outline of the eyelids around a human eye. 

	Starting a few miles west of the lake, there was a
single, irregularly shaped but roughly circular swathe of
green, including the dark green of forests its northern
half, which overlapped with the southern edge of the
mountains.  And on the eastern shore of the lake sat a
gargantuan city, big enough to be seen from high above the
land. 

	It was twilight, and as the nightgaunts descended,
shadows ran across the land, swathing it in darkness.  And
from the darkness, from the city, rose a flock of cherubim,
coming to meet them.  The night- gaunts turned and dove
through them, heading for the green sward, but they were not
fast enough, not with passengers. 

 	"Ya know, I just realized we don't have any parachutes,"
Touji said. 

	Asuka drew the flaming sword.  "You want some?  COME
AND GET IT!" 

	Touji hefted the shield and spear as best he could
while being carried, then suddenly realized he wasn't half
so cramped up from carrying them for hours or days or
however the hell long they'd been in space as he should have
been.  Must be magic, he guessed, wishing he had a chain gun
instead.  "C'mon ya worthless bastards!  Even Shinji can
kill you losers!" 

	Two Cherubim dived at them.  One took a spear
through its skull and popped like a baloon, deflating and
falling.  The other had its claws burnt off, then its chest
hacked open.  It fell as well.  They killed a dozen of the
creatures.  Unfortunately, there was no way for them to
defend the backs of the nightgaunts carrying them.  They
never learned for sure if the nightgaunts lost their grip or
died, but without warning, they suddenly fell. 

	"Man, if that thing about dying in real life if you
die in a dream is true, I'm gonna find you in the afterlife
and STOMP YOU FLAT, Langely!"  Touji tried willing himself
awake, but it didn't help.  He could feel himself getting
lightheaded, and it took a supreme effort to cling to the
shield and spear; the jug was tied to his belt.  "Hmm.  What
happens if I stand on the shield that doesn't break?  Think
it'll absorb the impact?" 

	"I think you'll splat flat against the inside of
it," she said. "But it'll only kill your dreamself.  Killing
one body doesn't kill the other.  That's why Kuranes is
still alive here, but he's been dead in the waking world for
a long time."  Asuka had to fight to keep from succumbing to
terror.  She could see the ground coming closer and closer. 
Only the knowledge that people did sometimes survive falling
this distance, out of airplanes and so on, kept her from
completely freaking out.  And the fact that she would never
let Touji see her be afraid. 

	"This is all your fault," he said. 

	"Excuse me, but those weren't MY Cherubim!" she
shouted, then felt a wave of faintness hit her. 

	They bickered some more, but long before they
reached the ground, fear and lightheadness took them, and
they passed out, high above the trees that covered the
ground below. 

                         -*-
                     end part 14
                         -*-