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


                 Children of an Elder God

                        Part 15

                    Saving the Dead
                       part 3 of 3
               The Man Who Sold The World


                         -*-

	In the late hours of night, in a cozy, candle-lit
bar and lounge, "Buddy" O'Tip tickled the ivories while
singing along with his smooth voice.  A few night owls
listened comfortably at the bar as he sang, and if they
watched carefully, it seemed as if the singer had a
mischievous and knowing glint in his eyes. 


o/~ We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when o/~
o/~ Although I wasn't there, he said I was his friend o/~
o/~ Which came as some surprise I spoke into his eyes o/~
o/~ I thought you died alone, a long long time ago o/~

o/~ Oh no, not me o/~
o/~ I never lost control o/~
o/~ You're face to face o/~
o/~ With The Man Who Sold The World o/~

o/~ I laughed and shook his hand, o/~
o/~ and made my way back home o/~
o/~ I searched for form and land, o/~ 
o/~ for years and years I roamed o/~
o/~ I gazed a gazely stare at all the millions here o/~
o/~ We must have died along, a long long time ago o/~

o/~ Who knows? not me o/~
o/~ We never lost control o/~
o/~ You're face to face o/~
o/~ With the Man who Sold the World o/~


                         -*-

	Asuka woke to the taste of pine tar and gagged
instinctively.  Her whole body ached, and she felt cold. 
The silk sheets were cold but soothing to the touch, and the
bed she was in was quite comfortable. Once she regained full
consciousness, she realized she was also quite naked, except
for her bra, panties, and socks.  What kinda weird hospital 
is this?, she asked herself. 

	 Someone snored very close to her, so she rolled over
and said, "Quit sno..."  Having opened her eyes, she could
see who it was.  Touji was naked next to her except for his
blue boxer shorts and white socks, which needed to be
washed.  "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN BED WITH ME?" 

	"Mmm, Misa..." Touji mumbled, then snapped the rest
of the way awake.  "AAAA!!!!! WHAT IN HELL ARE YOU DOING IN
MY BED?" 

	"I'm not in YOUR bed!  You're in mine!  How the hell
did you get into my apartment?"  Asuka shouted. 

	"You're smoking crack!  I wouldn't try to crawl into
your bed if you were the last woman on Earth!" 

	She tried to slap him, but he caught her arm and
tried to flip her out of the bed.  Not being the grand
martial artist, he simply ended up pulling her on top of
him, and they started wrestling.  After about five minutes,
this ended with his face shoved into a pillow, and Asuka on
his back, pinning him down.  "I'm gonna call Misato and..." 

	"Who's Misato?" a male voice asked.  It sounded very
much like Shinji, except for not knowing who Misato was. 

	"Don't be a crackbaby, Shinji," Asuka said.  "This
creep snuck into...ACK!"  She pulled the sheets up around
her.  "Don't walk into my room when I'm half naked!"  Wait,
I have stars and moons on my sheets and these are plain
green, Asuka thought.

	Turning around brought more confusion; the room was
huge, with tapestries of green forests and pleasant meadows,
full of frolicking animals.  The ceiling had a stucco mural
of a green-haired woman crossing a barren wasteland at
night. Behind her, plants grew from the ground and the black
sky turned blue.  There was a small table off to the right
of the bed, upon which sat the jug, the spear, the shield,
the sword, the whistle, and the lantern, which was currently
hooded. 

	The visitor sounded like Shinji, but he looked like
Shinji might if he aged about ten years and started wearing
regal Renaissance costumes. Next to him was a woman shrouded
in a dark green cloak with a hood, from which only her red
eyes could be seen.  She wore a silver crescent moon pendant
on a silver chain. 

	The man said, "Brings back memories of old times,
eh, Cassilda?" 

	 "Yes," she said with Rei's voice, though older.  She
pulled back the hood and revealed she had Rei's face, though
matured by a good ten years, with the same short blue hair. 
She produced two packages from somewhere inside her cloak. 
Each was a wrapped bundle of clothing. Walking over, she put
them on the table.  "Wear these to dinner." 

	Touji twisted about and stared at the Shinji-like
man.  "If this is like Rip Van Winkle, I'm gonna be pissed. 
Where the fuck are we, Shinji?" 

	"I am King Alars, and this is the Kingdom of Joy,
what is left of it.  But we will speak more of that at
dinner.  We'll come back in about fifteen minutes.  Or do
you need more time to wrestle first?  Or were you..." 

	Touji and Asuka sprang as far away from each other
as they could without getting out from under the sheets. 
"HELL NO!"  they shouted in unison. 

	"We'll come back in a little while.  Have fun,"
Alars said, grinning, then ran out of the room before two
hurled pillows could hit him in the head. 

                         -*-

	The dining room was small, but dignified, with a
single round table of mahogany with ivory inlays set with
five places.  The walls were simple blue paneling, and the
table had a beautiful five-candle candleabra in the middle,
cunningly made to look like a bush covered with ivy.  The
chairs were well padded and quite comfortable. 

	Asuka, now clad in red and gold brocade, and Touji,
clad in brown and blue, were joined by Alars and Cassilda,
and Uoht.  Just as Alars and Cassilda looked like a grown-up
Shinji and Rei, Uoht was Asuka come into the full blossom of
adulthood, clad in a blue buttoned shirt with green ivy
embroidery upon it, covered by a dark green jacket, and
wearing a dark green skirt down to her knees with light
green leggings extending from under that into her dark brown
boots.  "Alars was right.  You do look just like I did when I
was a kid," she said. 

	And you look like...mom, Asuka suddenly realized,
pleased at the thought.  And Shinji looks a little more like
his father like that.  I wonder if Rei's mother had blue
hair too... 

	"Freaking great, two of them..."  Touji muttered. 

	"Better than two of you," Uoht began, but then Alars
put a hand on her shoulder. 

	"He is not Thale.  Do you think she would have come
this far with him if he was?" 

	Uoht turned and stared at him, then gradually
softened.  "I suppose not.  This is a story with many
variations, after all." 

	Alars nodded.  "Hold your temper; they are our
guests." 

	"You said that about the Stranger in the Pallid Mask
too," Uoht snapped, then sighed and turned to Asuka and
Touji.  "I am sorry for any insult.  You resemble an old
enemy of mine who contributed greatly to a great deal of
misery, but I should not judge you simply because you share
his visage."  She bowed.  "I apologize." 

	Several servants clad in the king's black and silver
livery came in, and began to lay out the dishes to be eaten,
including a great slab of roast beef, a bowl of baked
potatoes, another bowl of steamed mixed vegetables, a plate
of rolls, a congerie of rice balls, and many other food
items. 

	"Hey, you people are the ones from the play!"  Touji
said, as everything suddenly clicked in his head.  "You
mean, it was like a true story?  But shouldn't you be dead,
then?"  He tried to remember how the play ended, but besides
it involving buckets of blood, he couldn't quite remember. 
The whole final performance was a blur too. 

	"Please, sit down, and we shall dine," Alars said,
sitting down.  Cassilda sat down to one side of him, Uoht on
the other.  Touji sat next to Cassilda, while Uoht and Asuka
sat next to each other.  "A blessing, if you will,
Cassilda." 

	She spread her arms out over the food, and said, "Oh
moon goddess Lenilda, we think you for your aid.  Help us to
revenge the evil wrought by your enemies upon your kingdom." 
Her voice was reverent and soft and altogether far more
happy than Asuka could remember Rei ever being on more than
a tiny handful of occasions.  "Bless our meal and our
guests, who have travelled far from their world.  All hail
the one who perishes and is reborn, the eye that opens and
shuts, bringing tides to guide the sailor home, and seasons
to mark the year.  As you have, we have been reborn; help us
to make the most of it."  She opened her eyes, and for a
moment, Asuka saw them as moons instead of reddish orbs, but
then they were normal again, and Cassilda's triumphant smile
faded to a tiny calm one. 

	They all dug into the food, and for a while, the
sound of faces being stuffed was the only noise to be heard. 
Once Asuka and Touji had sated their hunger, Asuka asked,
"Did you...I mean...Was what happened in the King in Yellow
true?" 

	"Yes," Alars said.  "But you changed the ending, and
thus our fate changed.  Now, we make war upon the King in
Yellow's forces, to determine who will be the true dream of
Aldebaraan.  If we can defeat his regent while he is
imprisoned in the waking world, we can shatter the basis of
his power." 

	"So, there's like, humans on other planets?"  Touji
asked. 

	"We are human now, for we are the dreams of men,
though once, we were what you call Cherubim." 

	"..."  Asuka stared at them blankly. 

	"The King in Yellow transformed and blighted our
race, turning them into his servants.  New gifts he gave
them, to turn aside weapons and to fly through the void, but
he warped their dreams and brought them under his sway,
and under the sway of the Outer Gods who he served," Uoht
said.  "Then he spread the tale of his deeds to other
worlds, and whenever that tale was fully performed, it
became a rite that called him forth to corrupt and conquer
that world as well.  It has happened dozens, maybe hundreds
of times, and each and every one of his victims is
imprisoned beneath his palace in dread Carcosa, across the
lake of Hali." 

	Cassilda said, "By holding their dreamselves, he can
avail himself of their power, and of the power of the worlds
whose dreams and waking he has brought under his sway.  That
is the source of his might. Channeled through the Throne of
Nightmares, which multiplies that power, it gives him vast
strength.  But that is also his weakness." 

	Asuka stared at Cassilda.  I bet Rei would die if
she said that much at once. 

	Alars continued, "The moon goddess has told Cassilda
that your friend lies imprisoned within those walls as well. 
We want to rescue him and all the prisoners.  Once they are
all free, the Throne of Nightmares will shatter and the King
in Yellow will lose all of his power except that granted him
directly by the Outer Gods, which is likely substantial, but
not unbeatable.  Cassilda has a plan for how to break inside
and free them while we stage a diversionary attack.  Are you
interested?" 

	"Hell yeah,"  Touji said.  "Busting Kensuke out is
what we came for, and if we can really take a piss in the
King's face, all the better." 

	"And I as well," Asuka said.  "Kensuke was my friend
too.  I put up with my loudmouthed squire for his sake. 
And..." 

	Touji stuffed a roll in her mouth.  "She's my
squire.  Don't listen to the uppity bitch." 

	As they began to squabble, Uoht turned to Alars. 
"We weren't that undignified, were we?" 

	"Perhaps it would have been better if you were," he
replied. 

                         -*-

	Cassilda was glowing, or to be more precise, her
necklace was glowing with a soft yellow light, which they
used to navigate the long stone tunnel which led from
several miles away from the city to the dungeons beneath the
palace. 

	"So how did you know this place was here?"  Touji
asked.

	"Carcosa is a mockery of our old city, the King in
Yellow's palace a mockery of our own.  Yet, all of it is but
a twisting of our original, not a truly new creation.  We
had this tunnel, and thus his did as well.  Whether he knows
of it, I know not."

	That bothered Touji. 

	A few minutes later, the tunnel ended with a door
with its hinges on this side.  Cassilda said, "This will
give us entrance to the dungeon."  She placed her hands upon
it and murmured a few words.  The door then swung open as
she stepped back. 

	"Come," she said, and stepped through.  They
followed her. 

                         -*-

	It swiftly became apparent that things had changed. 
Cassilda soon found she did not know the way, indeed, none
of them could figure out the way to go.  Marks on the wall
vanished when they backtracked, and every method for
navigating a maze known to the three of them consistently
failed, eventually depositing them back at the door through
which they had entered, a door they could not open. 

	"I hate mazes,"  Touji announced. 

	"I'm starting to think this place reconfigures
itself.  Or maybe it's all just an illusion in our heads," 
Asuka said.  "But without a way to break it...know any
tricks for getting rid of illusions, Cassilda?" 

	"I've already tried them."  Cassilda sat down.  "I
must think." 

	Asuka did the same thing, while Touji leaned against
the wall.  He tried poking it with his spear.  It crumbled
at the touch, but so far as he could thrust it, it met with
resistance.  No point in risking getting it stuck, he
thought.  Seems real. 

	"Maybe we can dig ourselves a tunnel with the magic
sword and the magic spear," Touji said.  "Or if we knew we
wanted to go down, we could try using the jug and watch the
way the water flows.  Or we could...ahah!"  He grabbed the
still-hooded lantern from Asuka.  "Let's see if this can
shed a little light on our problem."  He laughed at his own
joke. 

	Once unhooded, the lantern blazed more brightly than
he remembered it shining when Ariel had been carrying it. 
Probably there's some brightness switch they forgot to tell
us about, Touji concluded while he was busy going blind
briefly. 

	He heard Asuka gasp, and then his vision cleared. 
They stood in a long hallway with many doors along the side,
heading out of sight.  The place had a rather nasty smell of
rotting flesh, and the floor and walls had suggestive
reddish and red-black stains. 

	He turned to Asuka and Cassilda, and did a little
gasping himself.  For a moment, they both seemed large as
mountains, far greater than the tiny corridor which held
them, the Asuka and Cassilda in the corridor but shadows of
their mountain selves.  The greater Cassilda was a pillar of
moonlight, flickering in and out, waxing and waning in
accordance with the laws of the moon which gave it life. 
And Asuka... 

	Asuka was a roaring flame big enough to destroy an
entire city, light and heat erupting from her in a wave, the
fire that could both sustain life and destroy it.  She was
the sun which melts winter snows and turns fertile lands
into desert.  She was the fire that hardens clay and melts
metal.  She was the light that banishes darkness and creates
shadows.  Worthy she was to stand before the Elder Gods and
bear their blessing. 

	Indeed, his memories of them suddenly revealed their
full glory.  What he had seen before had been but the shadow
of their full glory, and now he fell to his knees at the
very memory of them.  Much to his surprise, Asuka and
Cassilda did the same.  Asuka was staring at him as if he'd
sprouted a third arm or suddenly announced he was
Amaterasu's son.  Asuka said, "I never knew..." 

	Cassilda choked out, "The lantern...hood it...The
mortal mind cannot stand the truth unveiled...Though now I
understand..." 

	He hooded the lantern, and they returned to normal. 
The maze did not return, and he stood up.  "What the...That
was seriously funky."  The memory of it was dimming rapidly,
like a dream from which he had awakened, although he didn't
think he'd ever completely forget how Asuka had looked. 

	She was still staring at him, looking almost
haunted.  He said, "What are you looking at me funny for?" 

	"Dr. Akagi was right," she muttered. 

	"Huh?" 

	"Nevermind.  We can talk about it later." 

                         -*-

	After several minutes of walking along the corridor,
Touji asked, "What is this place?  I mean...there's blood
splattered everywhere, but no people." 

	"The crypts," Cassilda said. 

	As if on cue, the doors swung open, and shambling
rotting corpses shuffled out, arms held forward.  Touji
swore, "Great, night of the damn living dead.  Zombie movies
are for watching, not living.  And they stink like a rotten
egg." 

	The zombies began to moan and mumble as they
advanced.  Touji hefted the spear and got ready to defend
himself with the shield. "Brains...brains......"  he
muttered, then said more loudly, "Well, if they're after
brains, you're safe, Langley." 

	Asuka drew the flaming sword.  "Bite me, Suzuhara." 

	"This ain't no time to be inviting nobody to bite
you." 

	Cassilda produced a scythe from somewhere, although
how she could have been carrying it unseen, they did not
know.  "Press for the stairs!" 

	She and Touji pressed forward while Asuka covered
their rear.  It felt more to Touji like shoving through a
mob of people than a battle.  The dead came on in endless
waves and fell as soon as Cassilda mowed them like wheat or
he poked one with a spear.  He could hear Asuka shouting
insults at the zombies behind him. 

	Then their ranks parted as a zombie clad in royal
silks pressed forward, bearing a sword with jagged edges. 
Cassilda started visibly.  "King Genji." 

	"What, like that stupid book we had to read in lit
class?"  Touji asked.  The 'King' had short black hair and a
thick beard, more neatly trimmed than one might expect for a
corpse.  He wore a white silk shirt with red stains, a
silver jacket, and black pants, and his hands were covered
by soft white gloves.  He does look vaguely familiar, Touji
thought. 

	"He was a great sorcerer," Cassilda said.  "Rather
lustful, but not stupid at all." 

	Genji's voice sounded rusty.  "Cassilda...you look
so much like your mother."  He smiled in a disturbing way. 
"Come and lie with me as she did." 

	Cassilda's face darkened.  "Liar." 

	"Get out of the way, your highness, or I'll poke you
with my magic spear," Touji said.  Geez, that sounds stupid,
he thought. 

	The king flicked his wrist, and Touji and Asuka went
crashing through the horde of zombies behind them,
accidentally destroying nearly a dozen in the process.  He
turned to Cassilda.  "I will show you I am a better lover
than my son." 

	"We have no time for this," Cassilda said.  She
slashed at him with the scythe, but he knocked it aside with
a backhanded slap. 

	"I am beyond the power of your Moon Goddess," he
said.  "For the power of greater beings flows through me.  I
will make the most of this respite from the grave.  I will
have you."  He began to reach out to grab her. 

	Touji stood up and thought, here's where we find out
if this thing really always strikes through.  "Better luck
next time."  He hurled the spear, and it flew straight and
true, piercing Genji through the heart, and sending him
crashing into the wall, nailed there by the spear. 

	He tried to pull out the spear, but his gloves
burned away, leaving only bony digits robbed of flesh.  A
second try destroyed even those, but then they started to
regrow from the stump. 

	Cassilda picked up her scythe.  "Good thinking, Sir
Touji.  Lady Asuka, if you will?" 

	Asuka ran over and sliced off his head, which then
began to regrow.  "Oh great, how do we keep him dead?" 

	More zombies began to advance, and Cassilda frowned. 
The zombies slain earlier were getting back up, though now
they were even more maimed.  "The power of the Throne
sustains them.  We must run while we still can.  We shall
have to come back for the spear when the Throne loses its
power." 

	"But I need a weapon!" 

	She handed him a sword with a crescent moon marked
on the blade.  "Use this.  He cannot use his magic against
us while the spear holds him in place, but if we remove it,
we will face a fight that can only slow us down at best." 
Asuka was busily frying on-coming zombies.  "My sword is not
so powerful as your spear, but it will serve you well, I
hope." 

	He sighed.  "I'd BETTER get it back after this, or
they'll probably whoop me.  So where are you hiding all
these weapons?" 

	"Lenilda is a warrior as well as a giver of life," 
Cassilda said.  "We don't have time for theology.  Let's
go." 

                         -*-

	The dungeons were the next level above the crypts. 
There was a central room from which a staircase ran down to
the crypts and another one ran upwards to the palace proper.
The room was roughly circular, though not very skillfully
made, and five long hallways radiated out from it at equal
intervals.  One of them had collapsed and was choked with
rubble.  Moanings and wailings and meepings and beepings and
scratchings and many other noises echoed down each of the
four which were still passable, although clearly the dungeon
had seen better days for maintenance.

	"Geez, are prisons always this noisy?"  Touji asked. 

	"Not quite this noisy," Asuka said.  "I hope.  Well,
let's start looking."

	The first tunnel was lined with cells on both sides,
every fifteen feet with a clear crystal door.  The hallway
was unlit except for the glow of Cassilda's amulet, and
except for four cells from which flickering green light
shone.  They stopped at the first cell to see if Kensuke was
in it. 

	This cell held a swarm of blue-black two-foot long
beetles, which hurled themselves futilely at the door as
they peered in.  Several dozen became smears as they
literally beat themselves to death trying to break through
it, and then the rest retreated, piling themselves up into a
roughly pyramidal mound.  The door was now coated with
yellow-black pus.  Touji winced.  "Next door." 

	Across the hallway, a whirling pillar of blue-gray
mist drifted aimlessly about its cell.  Swirls and eddies
that resembled eyes and ears occasionally formed, but it
took no notice of them, simply drifting.

	"Next." 

	The next cell looked deeper than the first two,
though no wider.  The walls were splattered with greenish
black blood as two nearly identical eight-legged spheres
with six pseudo-human arms, joined together by a short
tether of ochre flesh, grappled with each other, ripping off
each other's arms and legs.  Each had several stumps which
were rapidly regrowing.

	"BLEAH.  Next." 

	The next cell had blue-green grass growing from its
floor, and a placid four-legged, scaled and horned beast
about the size of a cow with three eyes and two tails was
placidly grazing.  It looked up at them, blinked thrice,
then went back to grazing.

	"Next." 

	The range of creatures ran from the grotesque to the
sublime, from the apathetic to the desperate, from the
near-human to the utterly alien.  But none of them was
Kensuke in any of the fifty cells in this hallway.  "Geez,
how many people has this guy possessed?"  Touji asked. 

	"You can do quite a bit in millions of years," 
Cassilda said.  "We will have to free them, but we can find
your friend first." 

	Touji grunted.  "Free those monsters?" 

	"They are, or were, just as sentient as you.  Their
forms may be alien, and their minds as well in many cases,
but they are just innocent victims of the King, led astray
by his call.  And until they are free, his power will not be
broken.  Even then, if the Outer Gods sustain him, we may
not be able to defeat him, but at least there will be that
chance."

	Touji shuddered. 

	Asuka said, "I suppose we seem as strange to them as
they do to us."  Deep down, she didn't want to let most of
them loose either, but she wasn't going to admit she felt
the same as Touji on that. 

	"Indeed." 

	They soon reached the next hallway.  Touji started 
quickly scanning up and down the corridor.  "Looks this is 
just freak show 2." 

	A deep voice echoed from the central room.  "Looking
for someone?" 

	They turned and saw a short, stocky man, clad in
black robes covered with the yellow sign dozens of times. 
He wore a hood over his head, and a stylized mask carved
from turquoise showing a solemn face.  In one hand he held
an obsidian rod of office, and in the other was a small
glass bottle the size of a coke can, stoppered on top.  From
within it, they could see Kensuke's translucent form.  "This
game is over.  Come with me, or I will destroy him." 

	Touji clenched his fists and cursed to the heavens. 

                         -*-

	Through the palace he took them, a baroque maze of
bronze and mirrors and tarnished gold.  They climbed up a
high staircase, and stepped out onto a balcony, from which
they could gaze upon Carcosa, the Lake of Hali, and the
plains beyond the lake.  Carcosa was vast, easily as large
as Tokyo-3, although most of it lay behind them, out of
sight.  The streets were wide and paved with black
cobblestones, forming a great curving sigil, the yellow sign
itself, at the heart of which stood the palace, with many
lesser streets almost invisible among the buildings which
clustered close upon each other.  Most of them were not very
tall, four stories or less, except for the great temples
which jutted up above the others with stone towers and
arching domes and an upward thrusting tentacle of copper. 

	The lake was dark and stagnant, utterly still except
for the occasional ripple.  A squid large enough to devour a
ship briefly surfaced, then dropped out of sight.  A foul
miasma rose from it and blew across the city, carrying the
scent of bile and rot.  Touji felt his stomach curdle. 

	Beyond the lake was a great beach of lifeless gray
dirt, which stretched for several miles.  Upon that beach, a
battle was taking place.  One army appeared human, several
thousand men in chainmail and plate, some on horses, others
on foot, marching under three banners:  a crescent moon, an
elk leaping skywards, and a silver crown on a black
background. 

	The other army outnumbered them three to one, a
legion of Cherubim who battled without a banner.  The sun
was setting, and more Cherubim were coming across the land,
streaming out of the advancing shadow of night.  The ground
was strewn with dead Cherubim, but a fair number of the
humans had fallen as well. 

	"As you can see, your friends cannot win,"  the
regent said. 

	As you can see, this battlestation is fully
operational, Touji thought.  I wish I had a shaft to a
reactor core handy.  Although maybe I can toss him off this
balcony. 

	"But then, why should you care for them?  They are
but dreams, while you are real.  I have a deal to offer you,
for you would be more valuable to me alive than dead.  I can
tell you why your world is under attack, and teach you how
to drive them off.  I will give your friend to you as well;
his dreamself is only valuable to us as a bargaining chip,
since his body has been trapped.  All I ask for is that you
swear allegiance to me." 

	"I ain't selling my soul to nobody,"  Touji said. 

	The regent sighed.  "There is no such thing as a
soul, unless perhaps one counts the dreamself, but I hardly
think this is heaven, nor do most people live on here when
they die.  You are of no use to power the Throne of
Nightmares, and you would be of far more use to me in the
Waking World than locked away here.  What I want is a
binding oath of obedience.  Your soul is irrelevant; your
waking self is all important." 

	"I will NEVER serve you!"  Cassilda shouted, drawing
her scythe.  The Regent gestured and a block of amber formed
around her, freezing her in that pose. 

	"You cannot hope to defeat me in battle, here within
a city given to the Outer Gods, before whom none can stand. 
You have two choices.  You can freely give me your
allegiance and receive what I have offered, or you can watch
your friends die, then watch me devour Kensuke's dreamself,
the only part of him which remains him.  And then I will
find something amusing to do with you...perhaps chain you up
for the Cherubim to feast on every time you dream."  He
stared at them intently, though they could not see his eyes
through the mask.  "I tire of this.  Make your choice." 

	"I think that even if we did swear, you wouldn't
give us what we want.  And that's probably just an illusion
in the bottle," Touji said. 

	Asuka hesitated.  The idea of swearing allegiance to
him was anathema to her, but what he had to offer...to
finally know what was going on...to know how to defeat the
Angels once and for all...but Touji was almost certainly
right.  He had no reason to keep his promise if they did
swear.  And then an idea struck her.  She lifted Ariel's
lantern and reached for the hood.  "Try saying that again in
the light of truth." 

	The Regent stiffened, and the light shone forth. 
His mask dissolved away in an instant, revealing only a
starry void within it.  A voice gibbered inside Asuka's
head.  The Audient Void.  The Audient Void.  The Star Eyed
Lord.  Nyarlathotep, the Herald of the Outer Gods.  The
voices rose, howling in dozens of different languages, and
she tamped them down as best she could. 

	His voice echoed now, as if they stood in a great
vaulted chamber.  "So be it.  You shall die." 
	
                         -*-

	Two swords came out.  One was covered with
orange-red flame, the other shone with pale moonlight.  They
rose, dispelling the gloom that had fallen upon the balcony,
then sliced down in unison.  The Regent caught one with each
hand, and the fire and light were snuffed.  "Fire dies
and light fades."  His hands twisted and the flaming sword
was wrenched from Asuka's hands, falling at Cassilda's
amber-frozen feet.  The moon sword simply snapped in his
hands, then crumbled away to dust. 

	He stared at the shield, behind which Touji
sheltered himself while looking desperately for a weapon. 
"Ahh yes, the dreaded Elder Sign."  Asuka leaped at him,
kicking him in the groin, but the robes simply gave way,
leaving her with her leg extended into his clothing.  He
grabbed that leg and casually spun, smashing her into the
shield.  She fell to the ground in a daze.  "I see she's
gotten a little better at shield making.  Easily enough
remedied." 

	He stepped on Asuka, standing on her as he grabbed
the shield and crumpled it like tissue paper.  "Nothing is
unbreakable, for I am the very hand of the only irresistable
force.  Had the King in Yellow been free in the fullness of
his glory, your petty sign could not have stopped him, and
to me, this is no barrier at all.  I am the true Shatterer
of Worlds."  He tossed the shield aside. 

	Ignoring Touji's feeble blows, he grabbed Touji by
the throat, then lifted Asuka, who was beginning to recover. 
Then he walked over and held them both over the precipice
beyond the railing round the balcony.  The Kensuke-bottle
hung from the belt round his waist, swaying gently in the
wind.  "This is your final chance.  Swear or die." 

	"FUCK YOU!"  Asuka shouted.  "Go make love to
yourself with a brautwurst!" 

	Touji laughed.  "Yeah, kiss my ASS, you shiteating
bastard!  There, we swore, ya gotta let us go." 

	Asuka continued to curse at the Regent, slipping
into German, which Touji couldn't understand.  The Regent
simply stared at her, apparently either amused or waiting
politely for her to finish.  Then an idea struck Touji. 

	He lashed out with his hands, which were free, not
at the Regent, but at his belt, which he pulled off. 
Quickly, Touji popped the stopper on the bottle, and Kensuke
erupted from it, dressed in his school uniform of all
things, a translucent human who now hovered, apparently not
needing any ground, just a few feet out of the Regent's
reach.  Touji then let the bottle drop.  "Ooops, ain't got
enough hands to hold us and save your belt, eh?"  For a
moment, he wondered how he could talk so freely with a hand
clenched round his neck.  He filed this for later.  "You
lost, asshole.  Kensuke's free and I got what I fucking came
for.  Kill me, or whatever, I don't care, I'm sick of this
whole damn universe; I wanna go back home and be done with
it.  But even if you kill me, you'll know that YOU LOST, YOU
PATHETIC WHINING LOSER!" 

	For a moment, there was silence, and then the Regent
began to laugh.  The wind began to pick up, sending a chill
through Asuka and Touji. 

	Asuka paused in her rant, and saw Kensuke, and felt
the wind and the cold, and then she knew what she had to do. 
"Looks like the Outer Gods ought to fire you and hire Touji
as their new herald.  And trust me, if Touji can outsmart
you, you've got less brains than the average rock.  Geez,
what a total loser you are.  The Koosh Ball Angel was more 
dangerous than you." 

	His laughter rose in volume, and he made no reply
except to drop her and turn his attentions to Touji, who was
sticking out his tongue at him. 

	She fell in silence, opening herself to the power
within her.  Her blood hummed, and the song returned to her,
with a high lilting flute added, the power of the winter
wind, the power of the Wendigo, her power.  Winter
devastated and slew, its cold sucking the life from all it
touched, yet it was part of the cycle of life, and in the
end, its master had been but that force of nature made flesh
and coupled with a mind.  Winter could slay, but it also
renewed the Earth for the spring to come.  It held a
purpose, a meaning.  It was needed.  And so, she embraced
it, and called forth the winds. 

	They heard her call, and struggled like wild ponies
before a tamer, but in the end, before she struck the
ground, they knew their mistress and bowed to her.  It
brought a wild exultation to her heart, and she gave a great
and fierce cry of triumph. 

	They lifted her, and she rose to the level of the
balcony, with Kensuke smiling at her, and Touji staring in
shock, and the Regent continuing simply to laugh.  But his
laughter brought no fear, for it was the laughter of an
arrogant fool in her eyes.  She reached out, and her
children struck, ripping the Regent away from Touji, hurling
him to the streets below, while she caught Touji and lifted
him onto the balcony. 

	It would be so easy to crush him.  For a moment, all
her anger, all the rage, all the irritation he'd caused her
returned to her, and she knew that if she desired it, she
could be rid of him.  That this was only his dreamself
eluded her conscious mind, for the hunter was alive and
awake within her, and it hungered for blood.  She hungered. 

	He shivered and stared at her, and she realized he
could see the thought in her face, or perhaps something
else, could sense her power.  In his eyes, she saw her own
reflection; she glowed with power, her hair whipping about,
lit by an orange nimbus, but blue-white like ice.  She saw
her eyes rimmed red with fire, and then her own appearance
struck her like a blow. 

	The look on her face, the look of her face...so much
like...  like her.  And understanding came, and a return to
herself, a willing away of the urge to hunt, to kill one who
was not her true enemy, and a renewed desire to deal with
the true foe. 

	She gestured, and the sword flew to her, reigniting
in her hands as it fed upon her power.  With a single blow,
it shattered the amber around Cassilda, freeing her.  "Free
the prisoners.  I'll deal with the Regent and his army.  And
give me the bottle.  I'll need it." 

	"I don't think he's..."  Touji shuddered, looking
down into the gloom of the courtyard below them.  "Gonna
survive that."  He absently passed Oukranos' bottle to her. 

	"He is not a man," Cassilda said.  "Come, Touji, we
must free the prisoners." 

	Kensuke finally spoke, "I'll help you.  They'll know
me.  We all know each other here."  His voice was calm, more
mature than it had ever been that Touji could remember. 
"Let's go." 

	Touji stared at Asuka.  "What the...what the hell's
happened to you?" 

	"What will happen to you in time," Asuka said. 
"Now...I think just for a moment...I understand Rei." 

	She rose into the air, and was gone. 

                         -*-

	Few things are as much 'fun' as trying to free
hundreds of insane alien beings, half of whom want to
destroy each other, and the other half of whom want to hide
from the rest.  Still, Kensuke, Touji, and Cassilda kept at
it, smashing down doors and breaking up fights. 

	First in a trickle, then in a flood, they poured out
the doors of the palace, streaming off to who knows where,
in every direction.  Finally, only the serpent man remained,
though none of them knew how to communicate with him.  He
simply followed them and aided them as best he could. 

	Finally, the last of the prisoners was free, and
they began to trudge up the stairs.  Touji turned to
Kensuke, and just stared at him, trying to figure out what
to say, but he didn't know what to say.  Finally, he said
feebly, "You've been missing some great soccer games." 

	"Thanks, Touji," he said.  "You could've died."

	"I couldn't let the Kraut do this alone; she woulda
screwed it up."  His words rang hollow to himself, and he
turned to Cassilda.  "Now what?" 

	"Now we go see if I'm right and that broke the
Throne of Nightmares." 

	It was a short walk from the dungeon entrance to the
great throne room, a circular domed hall with the yellow
sign embossed in the pitch black floor, and the ceiling
depicting the night sky as seen from Aldebaraan; much like
Earth, but subtly different, for it was only fifty light
years away.  In the center of the floor sat five great
shards of black stone run through with golden veins. 

	"Oh yeah, we da man!"  Touji shouted, jumping up and
down.  "Suck on that, your highness!"  he shot the finger
off in the vague direction that the regent had fallen. 

	"Now it comes down to whether the Outer Gods choose
to sustain him." 

	"If the Outer Gods want to keep a loser like him,
we'll just have to kick their ass too," Touji said
confidently. 

	Cassilda simply laughed. 

                         -*-

	Asuka rose into the sky, hovering over the lake. 
She had sheathed her flaming sword, and now the Lantern of
Truth hung from one hand, and the Jug of Oukranos from the
other.  Looking out, she could see the battle raging, and
the shadow of sunset creeping ever closer to the fight.  The
Army of Joy was faltering, but their foes now hesitated as
well. 

	She opened herself to the music, the song of the
spheres that she had heard in space, the song that sang
within herself, the song of light and joy and hope and
darkness and misery and despair.  It was the song of truth,
which is not always good and happy and bright, but neither
is it always a song of evil and pain and the eating of
ashes.  She sung into the lantern, and pulled away the hood,
and Truth unadorned and unhidden came to the Ruins of Joy. 

	Pure light washed across the two battling armies,
and the Cherubim froze in place.  Their dark chitinous hides
cracked under the onslaught, and fell away, revealing
shining scales which grew and softened and extended,
becoming gleaming feathers that caught all the colors of the
rainbow.  Their hunched forms straightened, and twisted
insect-buzzard heads became closer akin to noble eagles. 
They rose into the sky in a great flock, and from their
ranks, a handful of unchanged ones fled off northeastward
into the shadow of the dark side of the world. 

	The men and women who they had battled stood
straight and tall, and raised their swords in a salute. 
Asuka could see Alars and Uoht among them, covered in blood,
not all that of their enemies.  A few among their ranks
collapsed, for their wounds remained as true as they had
been before, while others who had believed themselves
overwhelmed now stood and discovered they were less hurt
than they had thought. 

	The lake of Hali boiled away in seconds, leaving
only a great vacant chasm, in which great gray octopoids
writhed for a few seconds, then crumbled to dust.  The
ground shook, and Carcosa began to collapse, the ruin
spreading inward from the fringes. 

	Still holding the lantern aloft, she hurled the Jug
of Oukranos into the great chasm, and waters poured forth
filling it in what seemed like seconds.  The waters rose
above the edge of the lake, blue and shining, and poured
forth across the land.  And where they flowed, gray dirt
turned to brown, and grass sprouted, and trees, and the
waters lapped across the land, bringing healing where they
flowed.  The green sward spread across the land like a tidal
wave, and in the twilight, the world was renewed. 

	Then the lantern burst, for it had been used beyond
its capabilities.  It was meant to reveal the truth, not to
enforce it upon an entire world.  Tiny shards of light
erupted forth, and each thing they embedded themselves
within grew straight and tall.  For too long, the world had
been trapped within the lie that there was no end to winter,
no turning of the seasons, nothing but a spiral into
corruption, but now it was free.  With time, all the green
glory might die when winter came again, but beyond winter
lay spring. 

	Asuka looked down upon what she had wrought, and it
was good.  The full moon rose on the eastern horizon, and
she thought it was smiling at her.  She felt omnipotent,
like she could crush an Angel with her bare hands.  With a
gesture, the winds spiraled about her and began to lower her
towards the lake below.  I feel like I could walk on water,
she thought.  It was a state of intense ecstasy, better than
any pleasure she had ever felt. 

	Then the giant hand slapped her out of the sky, and
darkness took her as she plummeted into the waters. 

                         -*-

	Touji saw Asuka vanish beneath the waves, and saw
what had struck her, standing over much of the ruins of the
city, which had largely crumbled to dust and washed away in
the rush of the waters that were now receding into the lake. 
It was hundreds of feet tall, likely able to step on an EVA
if it felt like it, with skin mottled red and black.  It had
legs and arms and a torso much like a human, but instead of
a head, it had a huge hundred foot long tongue like a snake,
covered with sores from which erupted pus and blood
constantly.  It howled an unearthly cry. 

	"What the freaking....Tell me that ain't the
Regent." 

	"No, it's the Bloody Tongue, another of the Crawling
Chaos' thousand and one forms.  Whenever one slays one, he
comes back to life in a form more horrible than before." 

	"What, so we gotta kill all 1001 forms?" 

	"Right now, what we've 'gotta' do is wade through all
this water and go rescue Asuka before she drowns."

	"Oh shit, you're right.  Although if she hasn't come
up by now..." 

	Cassilda muttered a few words and waved her hands
about.  "Lenilda will give us the gift to breathe
underwater.  Come." 

	He wasn't so sure about that, but her grip was
relentless, and soon, he found himself dragged beneath the
waves.  Able to hold his breath only so long, he finally
gave in, and discovered that he could indeed breathe the
water.  He swam after Cassilda, who seemed born to the task
of swimming, even in her robes. 

	They found Asuka struggling towards the surface. 
She said to them, "I can breathe it.  It....It's like LCL,
but not nasty."  Her voice was strange, like she was
speaking in an echo chamber, and no bubbles came from her
mouth. 

	He blinked.  "No way.  We needed a spell.  What the
hell's happened to you?"  He could almost feel her presence,
even with his eyes closed.  His own voice echoed oddly as
well.  And how come we can talk in this stuff, he wondered. 
Although you could talk in LCL as well, but he'd never been
in it WITH someone; he'd assumed that it just conducted
sound to the radio or something. 

	"I can't run from what I am, just seek to make the
best of it," Asuka said.  "And use it to save humanity." 

	"That Regent freak is running around doing the giant
monster thing," Touji said.  "Gonna play goddess and kick
his ass?" 

	"I'm no goddess," she said.  "Not...not yet.  Just
a...I guess Ritsuko was right to call us demi-gods." 

	"She said WHAT?" 

	"I suppose it takes one god to beat another?"  Asuka
asked Cassilda. 

	"Exactly,"  Cassilda said. 

	"Got the whistle, Touji?" 

	He checked his pocket.  "I thought you had it." 

	She blushed and dug it out.  "Let's get to the
surface and call in the cavalry." 

                         -*-

	Once they reached the surface, Asuka blew the
whistle.  It resounded, and there was a flash in the sky.  A
figure riding in a sleigh shaped from a giant shell and
pulled by eight winged unicorns rode down from the heavens
cutting a wide berth around the Bloody Tongue, which was
beginning to stalk towards the army of humans and Cherubim. 
He landed on the surface of the waters near them, then
looked over at the Bloody Tongue and frowned.  "Normally, he
leaves if you manage to slay one of his forms, rather than
sticking around.  I did not anticipate this." 

	"Oh c'mon, you're a god.  Kick his ass.  If I had my
EVA, I'd stomp him myself.  How the hell does he see without
any eyes, anyway?"  Touji asked. 

	"His servitors I can banish.  I can outrun him.  If
I take you, he will not catch you.  But if I could slay him
in battle, I would have done so long ago.  He is the Herald
of the Outer Gods, and their power runs through him.  He can
be thwarted, but not by direct confrontation."  Nodens
frowned.  "And yet..."  He looked about him.  "He has lost. 
The battle is over.  The wheel has turned, and he is the
Turner of the Wheel, not its stopper." 

	"In other words, he's being a bad loser," Asuka
said. 

	"Or perhaps he is playing some other game entirely,
but I do not understand him," Nodens said.  "I can see only
one way to stop him.  Only the Outer Gods can force him to
leave, but to call upon them is dangerous, for they might
choose to destroy both of you, or destroy you and spare him
for some ineffable reason of their own.  They have no
concept of justice.  Yet, I see no other way.  Perhaps if I
went and got help, we could probably defeat him, but it
would be too late for the Kingdom of Joy." 

	"Huh," Touji said.  "But being destroyed here would
just...right.  I'm sicka this damn place anyway, so..." 

	"Touji, wait, I don't think..." 

	"YO, BUTT UGLY!"  Touji shouted at the Bloody
Tongue, who paused, and turned in his direction.  "You ain't
nothing but a bad loser who doesn't know when to take his
toys and go home crying to Momma.  Get your fat ass out of
here or I'm gonna call your daddy to come spank your butt!" 

	It began to rush towards him, every step sending
waves of water that knocked them all off their feet.  Touji
fell down, and went under, but he quickly bobbed back. 
"Hey, Outer Gods, your shiteating herald is being a poor
loser!  If you don't come stomp on his miserable ass, I'm
gonna tell everyone how much you all suck!" 

	"..."  Nodens stared at Touji in shock. 

	Asuka bobbed up.  "Touji...bad idea!  That's..." 

	Touji had finally lost it.  "Show yourselves instead
of sending your pansy-ass herald who even a loser like Asuka
can pimpslap off a balcony!  We won!  Now, be men and admit
it!"  He continued to rant. 

	The Bloody Tongue ceased its advance.  "Fool.  The
Outer Gods cannot be forced to obey one.  They care nothing
for your prattlings.  You cannot..."  Its voice was like the
crack of thunder, though it had no mouth with which to
speak. 

	The lake began to boil and bubble around the Bloody
Tongue, who was in it up to his knees.  Nodens swore.  "Your
eyes!  Shut your eyes!"  His voice echoed across the field
as well, and hundreds, maybe thousands of eyes snapped shut. 

	But Touji's did not.  He sent them marching orders,
but they remained wide open as iridescent bubbles erupted
from the lake, engulfing the Bloody Tongue.  And in every
bubble floated a black void full of stars.  They drew him
in, and galaxies floated past him as he dived through the
inky darkness of the nothing between everything.  Pulsars
throbbed and quasars sang songs to each other that no human
could comprehend.  Stars were born, and lived, and died, and
round them worlds spun, slowly spiraling inward or outwards. 

	A great spiral galaxy rose, filling his sight, aging
as it spun fast enough to be seen, and he knew it was
because eons were passing in a second.  He dove towards one
of the spiral arms, and near the fringes where mostly
nothing edged into almost completely nothing, he fell into
the orbit of a blue-white star ringed by many worlds. 

	The fourth world was green and blue with white
clouds and white ice caps, and upon it was a great continent
shaped like a crescent moon with a great blue lake just
south of its mountainous spine.  He plunged through the
clouds, and found himself plunging towards a giant congerie
of bubbles which had engulfed a now howling giant being that
could not be seen.  It was thrashing, and the bubbles moved,
and caught his eye, and drew him in. 

	And within the bubble floated a black void full of
stars.  Galaxies floated past him as he dived through the
inky darkness of the nothing between everything.  And he
made the trip again, and again, and again, and every time,
he felt like he had lost something, and his eyes would not
close, and every time, it was harder and harder to see
anything but the bubbles, for the being they engulfed was
fading, and finally, he plunged toward the bubble and it
popped, leaving him with only a name, Yog-Sothoth, and the
knowledge that in Yog-Sothoth, all things and places and
times were one.  Yog-Sothoth had never left, he had simply
ceased to be seen.  He could not leave, he would never
leave, much as Touji wished he would. 

	Scraps of memories danced in his head, of entire
races crumbling to dust, of worlds cooling from lava and
being devoured by the stars that gave them birth.  And
behind every rock, he could feel the presence of the Key to
the Gate, the Lurker at the Threshold, the One Who Is All
and Everywhere.  In his mind, he heard the Bloody Tongue's
voice, for it spoke to him at the moment at which it
vanished.  "You have not won, for this is what I sought all
along.  Cherish your illusion of freedom and victory while
you can."  Touji wanted to vomit. 

	The waters receded to lie calm within their proper
bounds in the lake, and the sounds of animals washed across
them.  A dozen yards away, a fish broke the surface of the
lake, and a bird began to sing.  The stars flickered in the
sky, and the full moon cast a pleasant silvery glow over
everything. 

	Touji and Asuka and Cassilda and Nodens stood in the
shallows now, and near them, Kensuke floated just above the
surface.  "It's over," Kensuke said. 

	"This battle is over," Nodens said.  "But the war
will continue for you in the waking world.  And here as
well; even if they destroyed him, they would simply make him
again, for they need a herald.  Still, the blood sings
within you.  I can feel you have both grown in power. 
Perhaps he shall learn the truth of an old adage." 

	"What old adage?"  Asuka asked. 

	"Do not call up what you cannot put down." 

                         -*-

	Tairo Yuka was half-asleep at her post.  She was
supposed to be monitoring the King in Yellow, but given that
the King was asleep, this was fairly high on the 'bore-
o-meter'.  Thus it was that she fell asleep. 

	She only woke when her head finally banged down into
the table, and she snapped awake, just in time to see the
King in Yellow's cell fill with iridescent bubbles.  An
instant later, the spy microphones broadcast hideous
screaming in what sounded like a foreign language from the
cell. 

	The bubbles vanished an instant later, and there was
nothing left of him but the cyrogenic unit, and five circles
etched into the floor, forming a pentagon as they touched
each other. 

	Please don't let them blame this on me, was her
first thought, and then she hit the panic button. 

                         -*-

	They got out of the water, and the army rushed over
to them.  Alars and Uoht rushed forward, and they grabbed
Cassilda in a tight embrace, then turned to Asuka and Touji. 
"Whatever aid we can ever give you, you shall have it,"
Alars said.  "Our kingdom is reborn, our world renewed.  We
pledge ourselves to you, our saviors." 

	Asuka blushed, and Touji sighed.  "Got any Pepto?"
he asked. 

	Cassilda placed a hand upon his brow, and spoke
three quick words.  His stomach calmed. 

	"Hey, how'd you know what I meant?" 

	"I could hear it churning," she said. 

	"We must go," Nodens said.  "We have far to travel
while the winds of space are favorable." 

	"Take me home," Touji said.  "And..."  Then it
struck him.  "Hey, so does this mean Kensuke gets his body
back now?" 

	Kensuke shook his head.  "It's over for me," he
said.  "It's time for me to go... wherever it is that we
go when we're dead." 

	Touji felt his stomach start to churn again. 
"What... hey, wait a minute!  I went through all this shit
for nothing?" 

	Kensuke patted his friend on the shoulder.  "Hey, if
you didn't do it, I would've been stuck in there forever. My
body's gone anyway, so I couldn't go back even if I wanted to."
Kensuke adjusted his glasses, peering off to something
unseen, across the lake.  "Hey, what's that?" he asked.  The
others looked too, wondering what he was seeing. "Huh...
looks like they've come for me," said Kensuke.

	"I ain't seeing nothing," Touji said. 

	They turned back, and Kensuke was gone. 

	"Is he in Heaven now?"  Asuka asked Nodens. 

	"Not even we, the gods, know what lies beyond death. 
Not even the Outer Gods and Nylarathotep know, whatever they
may say.  But I believe there is something beyond death, but
I have heard too many conflicting tales to be willing to
guess what.  But he looked happy to go there, it seemed to
me."  He put a hand on Touji's shoulder.  "Everyone dies,
but death provides the seed of new life.  It too has a
place." 

	A place somewhere far away from me, Touji thought. 
"Let's go."  He turned to Alars, Cassilda, and Uoht and
bowed.  "Nice meeting you."  He scrambled up into the
shell-sleigh. 

	Asuka bowed to the Army of Joy.  "I hope I see you
again one day."  She got up into the sleigh. 

	"We will meet again," Cassilda said as Nodens
stepped into the sleigh and cracked the reins.  The unicorns
began to sprint across the water, their wings flapping, and
slowly the sleigh began to rise. 

	A thought struck Touji.  "You don't dress up in a
red suit at Christmas, do you?" 

	"..." 

                         -*-

	The trip was long, but it all blurred together in
Touji's mind.  He spent most of it wondering why Nodens took
so long to get back to Earth if he had been able to get
there in seconds when the whistle was blown.  Finally, they
returned to Kadath, and there they feasted with the gods,
dining upon finest ambrosia and soma and other delicacies. 

	As he was busy shoving honey-butter covered rolls
into his mouth and washing them down with mead, a thought
suddenly struck Touji.  "Oh man, I think we lost all your
stuff!  And that undead king is still down in the basement
with the spear in him, and...aaargh." 

	"We can reclaim our weapons or forge new ones," 
Ariel said.  "We expected this would happen.  It was a price
we willingly paid to defeat Nylarathotep.  Too long has he
chivvied and humiliated us and laid his plans to destroy all
hope.  I can make another lantern, but he is not so easily
thwarted." 

	"I know," Touji said, feeling another twinge of
strangeness, half expecting the Lurker at the Threshold to
erupt from his flagon of mead. 

	"You will face him again," Nodens said.  As he
spoke, the room began to fade into darkness, and the longer
he spoke, the fainter his voice became.  "For like you, he
exists in both dreams and the waking world.  You will face
him there, for he brings doom to gods and men and sows
chaos, preparing the way for the wheel to turn.  You will
face him again, without magic items to save you.  He will
seek to winnow you, and the only weapons that can defeat him
and those who serve the Outer Gods may twist and turn in
your hands against you, for it is dangerous to fight fire
with fire.  Still, remember that there is one thing he and
his masters can never understand, for it is the one thing
they can never have themselves." 

	The light had almost entirely guttered out, and
Nodens final words had seemed as if they were whispered from
across a chasm, just barely perceptible.  Asuka and Touji
couldn't see each other, though they could feel each other's
presence, and all they could see of Nodens was a fading
glint off his silver arm. 

	"What?  What?"  Asuka asked desperately. 

	"Hope," he said, and darkness claimed them. 

                         -*-

	Asuka snapped awake, back in her bed at home.  She
sat up, and turned on the lights.  Did we win? she asked
herself.  We did free Kensuke, but...he's in heaven, she
told herself.  He has to be.  If I get there one day and
don't find him, I'm gonna be pissed. 

	For a moment, she half expected the Crawling Chaos
to erupt out from under her bed and eat her, but nothing
happened.  There were only the sounds of the city at night,
and light dimly filtering in through the blinds from the
nearby streetlamp, and Pen-Pen squawking. 

	She got out of bed, put on her slippers, and
shuffled out to the living room, where Misato, wearing only
a tank top and boxer shorts, was hard at work playing chess
with Pen-Pen.  Or to be more precise, she was dancing around
gloating because she'd just taken Pen-Pen's queen.  "Hah! 
I'm not tactical commander of NERV for nothing."  Noticing
Asuka, she said, "I didn't wake you up, did I?" 

	"Ever gone through hell for something, then not been
sure if it...I mean, it was worth it, but it just...we
thought...we hoped..."  She came over and slumped down in a
chair.  "He's free, but he's gone.  He was supposed to get
his body back." 

	"Tell me about it," Misato said. 

	Asuka launched into the tale. 

                         -*-

	Touji woke up, his stomach churning.  "I feel like I
could eat a horse, then throw it back up," he muttered,
staggering out of bed.  "Stupid gods probably forgot to cook
the pork and gave me amoebas again or whatever the hell that
was when we went to Peru." 

	He fumbled his way through his dark house towards
the kitchen, where he was pretty sure his dad kept the
Pepto-Bismol.  And the food; he could use both.  "I bet you
ain't got to wander around in the dark to get Pepto where
you are, Kensuke," he muttered, then decided he didn't want
to think about Kensuke. 

	"I'm gonna dream about basketball for the next three
nights, no matter WHAT Asuka wants.  I'll turn her into a
cheerleader if she tries anything, and make her cheer for
Germany to lose." 

	After a few minutes of pleasant fantasies, he
reached the kitchen, where the dog was pacing about.  You
better not have taken a dump in the wrong place again, he
told himself, then went over to pet Raiden, who was a big,
not too bright mutt with short tan fur and a pug nose. 

	Raiden stared at him, then snarled, backing up as he
advanced.  Touji scratched his head.  "You been eating
something funny?  Don't you know how I smell?  Or do I stink
that bad?" 

	Raiden backed up to the living room door and barked
sharply.  His tail was down, not up and wagging like it
should have been, normally would have been. 

	Oh man, what if he's gone rabid or something?  Shit,
I'd better wake up Dad, Touji thought.  This sucks.  Dad's
gonna kick my ass for waking him up, and then...  He sighed
and turned to go.  This just ain't my night, he thought. 

                         -*-

	"So, do you think we won?" Asuka asked Misato,
finishing her tale. 

	Pen-pen squawked affirmatively. 

	Misato said, "That explains that weird phone-call I
got.  That's why I was up." 

	"What?" 

	"A congerie of bubbles ate the King in Yellow.  I
was going to go down, but then I decided to wait for the
morning when they'd finish analyzing the site.  Site
security isn't my duty anyway; I'm the tactical chief.  But
I couldn't get back to sleep, so I ended up playing with
Pen- Pen." 

	Pen-Pen nodded. 

	"I'd say you won.  You freed Kensuke.  I guess we
may need to have Ritsuko run a few tests on Touji,
assuming... Hmm, makes me wonder if there's 'Inner Gods'." 

	Asuka laughed.  "Maybe.  Maybe that's our job."  She
frowned slightly.  "I need to talk with Rei." 

	"Talk at Rei, maybe.  She's not likely to talk back
much." 

	Asuka laughed. 

                         -*-

	Clouds threatened rain, but it wasn't coming down
yet as Asuka and Shinji walked to school.  "Don't mope," 
Shinji said. 

	"I'm not moping.  I'm thinking," Asuka said. 

	Rei came around a corner and rapidly joined them,
moving over to Shinji's other side. 

	"Hi," Shinji said. 

	"Hi," Asuka said. 

	"Hello," Rei replied. 

	They walked in silence for a few minutes, until, a
little ways from the gate, they caught up with Touji.  "Hi,
Touji," Shinji said. 

	"Hi, Shinji," he replied.  "Hello, Asuka and Rei." 
He sounded far more subdued than usual. 

	"Guten Morgen, Touji," Asuka said quietly. 

	Rei paused and stared at Touji, then walked around
him, and began to walk backwards in front of him, looking
him up and down.  He didn't comment, and neither did Asuka,
who was staring at the ground. 

	Shinji said, "Rei, what are you doing?" 

	"Checking." 

	"He's just feeling a little gloomy; it happens to
everyone," Shinji said. 

	"Really?" 

	Sometimes I wonder if Rei grew up in a box, Shinji
thought.  And sometimes I know. 

                         -*-

	"Dream quests suck," Touji concluded, "But I have to
say... the Elder Gods know how to cook a good meal." 

	He and Shinji were eating lunch together at school
under a tree.  Rei sat quietly nearby, also eating lunch,
while two trees down, Asuka and Hikari could be heard
talking softly to each other. 

	"I'll, uh, keep that in mind," Shinji said.  "I wish
I'd been with you, though.  I would have helped, if you'd
asked." 

	"I didn't think about it until it was too late.  So
how many times did Asuka throw you off that cliff?" 

	"Cliff?  She never threw me off a cliff." 

	Touji grimaced for a second, then looked
suspiciously at Shinji.  "Not even once?" 

	"Nope." 

	"She does have the hots for you, then." 

	"No way." 

	Rei glanced over at Asuka, who was listening to some
story Hikari was telling, then turned back to Shinji and
Touji. 

	"She went easy on ya.  She ain't the kind who goes
easy on nobody.  'Course, I showed her I knew what I was
doing."  He rubbed his arm.  "Crazy dog tried to bite me." 

	"Asuka tried to BITE you?"  Shinji stared in shock. 

	Asuka turned.  "What about me, Shinji?" 

	"My dog tried to bite me," Touji said.  "Sure,
Asuka's a dog, but she ain't my dog, thank the heavens." 

	"Oh, I'm a DOG, am I?  I seem to remember someone
not showing up for a one on one game because they were too
scared to face me!"  Asuka pointed at him and bellowed. 

	Touji got to his feet.  "You and me, on the court,
RIGHT NOW!  I'll kick your ass back to Kadath, Langley!" 

	"You've got it!"  They ran off towards the
basketball court, abandoning their lunches. 

	"So much for comrades in arms," Shinji said. 

	Hikari watched them go, then turned to Shinji. 
"This Dreamlands...this is really real?" 

	"Yes," Shinji and Rei said in unison. 

	"Misato's been there too," Shinji continued.  "It's
part of our pilot training.  Asuka trained me too.  Who
trained you, Rei?" 

	"Dr. Akagi's mother," Rei said. 

	"Wow, that must have been a long time ago," Shinji
said.  "What was she like?" 

	"A good teacher." 

	"Was she much like her daughter?" 

	"Very much."  She paused, apparently consulting the
memory banks.  "She liked your father." 

	Hikari frowned.  "You're not insinuating that..." 

	Rei turned and stared blankly at her.  "Insinuating
what?" 

	Shinji scratched his head, then realized what Hikari
meant.  "He'd never do something like that!" 

	"I'm sorry, it just sounded like she was hinting
that...never mind,"  Hikari sighed, got her lunch, and came
over and sat down by Shinji.  "Touji is brooding." 

	"He'll get over it," Shinji said.  "It's a different
brooding, though, can't you tell?" 

	"Not really." 

	"He wouldn't be playing basketball with Asuka if he
was really unhappy." 

	She stared at him for a moment, then nodded. 

	A shout of triumph echoed from the court, and lunch
continued on its merry way. 

                         -*-

	The electric buzz of fluorescent lights seemed to
buzz a little louder than they should, the glow of the room
a harsher shade of white.

	Left on the bathroom counter was a syringe, filled
with opalescent fluid.  Some of the fluid was already
dripping from the needle's tip, while other parts of the
sink were stained with seemingly random pools of the liquid.

	A gray, trembling hand reached up, trying
desperately to grasp the syringe.  Fingers curled into claws
scrabbled clumsily at it, and the best it could manage was
to knock the container to the floor below. 

	Ritsuko Akagi collapsed on the floor along with the
syringe, her body crumpling into a fetal position.  Her
breath was ragged and tense, mascara running down her face
as tears flowed from her eyes.  She whimpered and sobbed
intermittently as her hand feebly reached for the syringe.

	With one last desperate lunge, she seized it and
quickly stabbed it into her gut. 

	"Nnng."

	She pressed down on the syringe, emptying it of its
contents.  Her breath evened out slightly, though still
gasping in pain, and she closed her eyes.

	She tried to clear her mind, clear away the pain,
clear away the image she saw in the mirror.  Ritsuko tried
to forget the fate she raged against every day, pushing back
fears that it was raging back against her.

	No.

	No surrender.

	She'd rather die.

	"Aaagh," she said weakly.  "Shit."

	The cramps still assaulted her body, but the elixir
was already taking effect.

	Merciful sleep descended upon her soon after.

                         -*-

	"This bodes ill," Fuyutsuki said to Gendo across his
desk. 

	They were in Gendo's office, which had been
carefully searched for bugs and other spies a few minutes
earlier.  A great leather-bound tome sat open on the desk;
a blue sheet of paper wrapped round the back cover announced
that it was on loan from San Marcos of Lima University. 
Greek letters marched neatly across the page, periodically
interrupted by diagrams or crude drawings.  Most of the two
pages that could be seen were occupied by a thirteen stanza
poem that had annotations scribbled in Italian in the
margins and between the lines in faded green ink. 

	"Better that they take him than that he escape,"
Gendo replied.  "And it's not as if we could have prevented
it.  If He had ill intent against us, we'd be inside out or
inside the sun by now." 

	"Perhaps his cult made a bargain," Fuyutsuki
replied.  He ran a finger across one of the stanzas.  "'And
lo, the Key and the Gate comes.  None may master him, yet he
hesitates not to stoop to conquer.  He is the Opener of the
Way, and with its opening, his fellows shall look forth and
gaze upon this world.  Woe to those who gaze back.'" 

	"Ahh, but look at the previous one.  'Hail, Hail,
the city of Sorrows is fallen, the Pallid Mask is shattered,
the Regent driven forth!  Cast off your grey and dismal
shells and walk once more in the light.  Let us build the
city of Joy and rejoice in the dawning of new hope.  After
winter summer, and after summer winter, and after winter,
summer comes once more.  The King in Yellow is dead.' It's
all part of the prophecy." 

	"The prophecy has some rather dismal pieces too, you
know." 

	"I know," Gendo said frowning.  His finger moved
down the page, and he read, "Let all sorrow for the City of
the Bean, for the Second Sun has come, and his glory shines
over them.  His children will devour all for his glory,
until the Lords of the Elements come and bring night to the
shattered land."  He sighed.  "The Great Day draws closer
when all our plans will come to fruition, but there are
still too many mysteries, and too many will die whatever we
do.  Still, we have agents watching the major potential
sites." 

	"Of course, it could be that it's just some small
town with a green bean festival," Fuyutsuki replied. 

	"And the Second Sun could just be a powerful lamp. 
But I doubt it." 

	"The VR scenarios should be ready for the Children to 
go through them within a day or two.  I've designed ones
for the four most likely strike sites.  It should help." 

	"Good," Gendo said.  "Snuffing the Second Sun will
likely push them to the limit; best we have the chance to
move those limits in advance." 

	Fuyutsuki nodded.  "I'll get to it." 

                         -*-
                     end part 15
                         -*-