Part 39: Epilog TWHE: Climbing to the Bottom

Celsia groaned and rolled over, her head pounding like a bass drum. Wincing, she opened her eyes, spiking pain shooting through her as the sunlight streamed in from the window to her left. Gods, what am I doing…never mind that, where am I now?! Wondered the elf, squinting as she sat up, the sheets falling to her waist. Scratching an itch on her side, she discovered that she was apparently naked save for her jewelry. Not like that is something new anymore… she thought sourly, grimacing at the thought of Akagi.

"Akagi!" she gasped. Her abused mind began to clear a little. Trying to sort out her memories, she rubbed her eyes with her hands. I was casting the spell, then there was this fucking huge explosion… she frowned. "Then we were here." She finished. "How the hell did that happen?" asked the High Priestess of Common Elves to herself. From beside her, she heard an inarticulate sound. Freezing, she turned to see a form in the bed next to her. The elf's eyes went wide with horror. No! Please, gods, don't let that be who I think it is! She begged. The form next to her rolled over, clutching a pillow.

"Nnnuuu…aaiirrriii…again." Mumbled the form. Celsia's fist clenched. Unbidden, the elf saw the words of a spell in her head and immediately cast it, resulting in the body in bed with her being blown from the bed by a powerful magical explosion. Growling, Celsia stood, only to shriek as she lost her balance and tumbled to the floor. Just as she was sitting up, the door opened and Annette ran into the room.

"Celsia, what the fuck…?!" began the priestess in training, only to trail off as she saw Celsia picking her naked form up from the floor, the sheets of the bed on fire and some smoke rising from the window sill. "Well, I guess I was worried for nothing." Muttered the younger elf. Celsia sent her a weak glare.

"Morning, Annette." She said grumpily. Reaching her feet, she concentrated on her balance and managed to find it…sort of, anyway. "What happened?" she asked her apprentice.

"Last night or this morning?" retorted Annette, crossing to the taller elf and handing her a towel. "You better get a bath first." She decided. "You smell like a brewery." Sniped the younger elf. Celsia just groaned. "Oh, stop it with the theatrics! You're such a drama queen sometimes." Gritted the dark-haired elf as she exited the room. "Brunch will be ready before too long, so hurry it up!" she called back over her shoulder. The High Elf made her way out of the room and toward the baths. Wonder where everyone is? She thought to herself.

-

Airi sat sipping tea on the large, stone patio outside the main entrance to the Temple of Celsia's living quarters. It was the first time that the actress and her human friends had seen where Celsia and Annette lived. The arch bishops lived in a small dwelling on the opposite side of the massive temple that was Celsia's to manage. Airi smirked a bit as she reflected on the news she had heard last night. Since Celsia had become involved with the humans, her faithful had practically vanished. Over the months the group had been missing, her temple was slowly recovering its members, thanks mostly to Annette's efforts to tell people what was really going on with the group.

Well, now that we're back, I can't see her attendance gaining any more ground. Mused the woman, sipping her tea. The sunrise had been beautiful, if in that crazy fantasy-world way, with a sun that looked like it should be in a painting rather than a sky. Still, compared to where they had been, it was a problem she could overlook easily. Rit-chan seems to be recovering faster than I thought. She reflected. The teen had not been overly enthusiastic about the way it all went down, but - as she had the first time - was already pushing it aside and focusing on the task at hand. Although, she seems to reading her journal a lot more than before, and she's been writing like a boiler plate hack on a truck load of meth. Last night alone, she had written four complete pages in her nearly-full journal, and Airi had sneaked a peek at it. It was in a mix of German, English, Japanese and her strange code, which meant that it was most likely sub-sectioned for the people she was thinking of. Airi smiled. Whatever she wrote in that code must be truly juicy. Airi wondered what the teen would do when she ran out of pages. "Speaking of that…" she murmured aloud, draining the last of her tea and standing.

Purposefully, Airi walked to the room she and Rit-chan shared. It was a small, simple room in keeping with the elf world's less-than-advanced state of building, looking not unlike a small medieval inn from Europe, minus the Plague, rats, dirt and squalor. "Still no indoor plumbing." Muttered the actress. She would miss the modern convinient of the world where Mi-chan and her pilots lived - but that was all she would miss of that place, aside from the people. I hope Shinji was able to protect those he loves. She mused, reaching down to her small travel bag and withdrawing a laptop computer. Across its cover was the blood-red symbol of the organization that spawned it: NERV.

Opening the laptop and turning it on, she waited a moment as it booted up. Within four seconds, it was up, cautioning her that there were no MAGI links available, and there was no signal from the built-in encryption-capable wireless network. Airi closed the warning windows and opened a new file. Scrolling down to where she left off the day before, she began to type. However this turns out, when we get back to our world, I'll have one hell of a script to sell. Thought the actress, beginning the next scene in her script. And I'll make the time to check out some things as well. Like if there is a Yui Ikari, Gendo Rokubungi or either Akagi in our world. She had a suspicion that Rit-chan planned something similar and would most likely shoot anyone answering to Gendo Rokubungi who had even the slightest resemblance to the Dark Lord of NERV. Airi, smiling at the thought of Rit-chan riding Mike through down-town Tokyo, guns blazing like she did in the elf world, went back to her typing.

The scene was nearly done when there was a knock on the door. "Airi? Rit-chan? Are you in there?" came the voice of Annette. Airi glanced at the door.

"It's open, Annette." She called. The door opened and Annette poked her head inside. Seeing Airi sitting on her bed with a small, glowing thing on her lap, the young elf's eyes opened in excitement.

"Airi! What is that marvelous thing?" she asked, nearly scampering to the actress's side. Airi smiled at her enthusiasm.

"It's something from the place where we were - although, to tell you the truth, the same kind of device exists in our world as well, though not in as advanced a form as this one. It's called a laptop computer, and it is a device made to do different things for the user." Explained the woman.

"Different things? Like what? Start fires, cast spells, levitate stuff or what?" pressed the elf, eyes on the glowing screen. Airi saved her document.

"Well, for starters, right now I am using it to save what I write. With this device, I can store enough words to fill millions of scrolls and tombs." Said the human to the elf. Annette started a Airi wide-eyed.

"Really? That's a lot to put inside that small thing." She marveled. Airi smiled easily, shying away from trying to explain the working of electronics to the young elf.

"Yes, it is. But this can do more than just store words. It can store pictures, play games, create music and much, much more." She said, closing the word processing program and opening the media center. Selecting a file she had stolen some time ago from the MAGI archive system, she played a six minute clip of Shinji, Asuka and Rei doing what they did best: give NERV command grief. Asuka was ranting on incessantly about having to work with Baka Shinji and Wondergirl, while Shinji mildly defended himself from her accusations and Rei ignored her. Back and forth the arguments went. Eventually, Misato stepped in and managed to shut Asuka up in a way that made Shinji blush. Rei even flickered her eyes to Misato for a moment. The smile on Airi's face was wistful.

"Who are they?" asked Annette softly, her eyes on Airi's face. Airi blinked, her mask snapping back into place. "You seem to have a fondness for them."

"They were…no, they are the best of friends." She said evenly. Restarting the loop, she pointed to the screen, introducing them to Annette. "This one is named Asuka. Asuka Langley Sohryu, if you asked her. She is a pilot, and a warrior. The boy is named Shinji Ikari. He is also a pilot and warrior. This one is Rei Ayanami. She is far more than a pilot and warrior." Said the actress, her finger lingering on Shinji's form for an instant longer than the others.

"She looks like some of the human mages I have seen." Noted Annette. Airi frowned a bit at that. Maybe I should look into that… "And, what is this `pilot' thing?" Airi considered how to answer that one. Finally, she minimized the media center and brought up a CAD program. Typing swiftly, she selected one of the more than fifty programs she had stolen and ran it. On the screen, an Eva was schematically built in front of Annette's eyes, along with animation and scale comparisons. Annette's eyes opened wide when she realized the scale of this thing. "That is a large golem." She noted, awed.

"It's not a golem." Said Airi softly. "It is a combination of science and alien biology. They are called `Evas' - and they are more like gods than golems." The actress forced herself to go on. "They are alive, and yet are not alive as we are. A bound soul powers them, but a mind with which the soul has a very special connection is necessary to control them." At least until they Awaken and find that their ex-husband has been abusing their son. She thought vindictively. "So, the Pilots enter it, becoming the mind and will of the Eva." Airi tapped more keys, bringing up pictures of each Unit, naming them and the pilots as she went. When that was done, she closed the CAD program. "They are devastating in combat." She said, opening the media center again and showing her archive footage of Shinji fighting the Third Angel. Annette gasped as the conflicting AT Fields became visible to the naked eye.

"Incredible." She murmured. "What is that they are fighting?" asked Annette. Airi shrugged.

"It depends on who you asked and what you believed. At the very least, they were powerful beings from elsewhere. At worst, they were the messengers of the god of that world." She said simply. Annette's jaw dropped at that last part.

"And they killed them?!" she asked, chagrined at the notion. In a world where the gods ruled and had real substance, it was heresy of the worst sort to kill messengers from those beings. "What kind of monsters would do…?" she began, but snapped her jaw tight as Airi spun to face her, nose to nose with the young elf, her eyes burning with anger.

"They aren't monsters!" hissed Airi, enraged at the elf's presumption. "They were kids forced to fight for a world that treated them like shit! They had nothing, and they paid a high price for others ambition! Never call them monsters. Ever." Seethed the human. Annette shrank back from the woman.

"S…sorry!" she managed, her tone shaken. Airi closed her eyes and crushed her anger. It wasn't like she was attacking them. She only knows this world and it's rules. Let it go, Airi. Exhaling, she opened her eyes.

"No, it's me who needs to apologize, Annette." Said the actress. "Things where we were got…complicated. I think I got too close to them." She murmured to herself. "Besides, I can't see Shinji getting mad about something like that; not considering what he dealt with day to day." She said, her smile a bit sad. From outside the room, they heard someone calling for them to come eat. Powering down the laptop, she set it aside and rose, offering her hand to Annette, who accepted her help rising. As they exited the room, Airi had another thought, and took steps to head off future problems. "Annette," she said softly, touching the elf's shoulder. When the dark haired elf turned to look up at her, she went on. "don't say anything like what you said earlier around Rit-chan, ok? She got very close to them, and she's…touchy about their honor." In her mind, she saw Rit-chan's cold, dead eyes as she stalked the halls of NERV, rifle blazing. Sucked to be them that day, I suppose.

Annette shivered at her warning. She was more than a little scared of the teen, though she did honestly like her. "I hadn't planned on it." She muttered. Shivering once more, she turned her mind to happier thoughts. "Hey, when you say `very close', do you happen to mean…you know." She hinted. Airi just gave her an inscrutable smile.

-

Rit-chan jogged easily along the small trail, a NERV-logo jog top and loose nylon running shorts complimented by some athletic shoes her only attire. Well, not counting the USP riding her hip again, held in place by her trust - and well-worn - gun belt. She had awoken early, and felt the need to be alone for a bit, so she had slipped out of bed and into her exercise clothes before silently collecting her gun from under her pillow and moving out of the room she shared with Airi. Picking a direction at random, she stretched a bit, then began to walk, then jog. For a period of maybe a half hour she ran, but then slowed to a jog again, her mind slowly going blank as she settled into a mile-eating lope though the Elven forests.

The girl wasn't worried about getting lost, as she had an excellent sense of direction, and had never gotten lost in her entire life. So, she just ran. She had covered more than five miles now, but her second wind had cut in and she was feeling better than she had in a while. She lips curved into a lecherous smile. Well, since that morning that Shin and I fucked like a couple of crazed weasels! The girl remembered fondly. He made me cum so many times I passed out! She began to giggle a bit at the memory, her groin feeling hot and tingly at the memory. Ok, down girl! Shin's not…here, so you'll just have to live with it. A glint caught her eyes and she slowed to a walk as she broke out of the trees and found a blue-silver lake nestled in a small draw between the hills.

Panting, she paused to just watch the lake for a bit. Like many things in this world, it was unnaturally crisp and clean. The kind of thing you would see in an idealized children's book. Still, it was beautiful. Slowly, Rit-chan sank down to the clean, soft grass and lay down, absently tugging her pony tail over her chest to keep it from tangling. Maybe I should cut some off the end. Just to make it more manageable. She thought idly. Shinji had loved her hair, so she wasn't going to cut it, but she did occasionally think about it. Closing her eyes, she just chilled for a bit, feeling her skin cool as she rested. Abruptly, she felt something change around her. Opening her eyes, she concentrated. Yeah, something's changed. She thought.

"I think it only fair to warn you that if you dare to mess with me, I'll leave you breathing out of the back of your head." She said aloud, her hand falling to her well-used USP, her thumb cocking the hammer as she tugged it free. The sense of someone watching her didn't change. Sitting up, she found she was smiling a crazy little smile. "Ok, fine. Just don't say I didn't warn you." She said, turning to face the direction she felt the gaze from. Seeing an armored figure standing there, she blinked, decocking her gun and holstering it one handed. "Sorry. Didn't know it was you, Miria." She said to the elf.

"Oh, it's ok." Waved the elf, slicing a tree into fire wood with her ensorcelled arms. "I just saw you running away from the shrine this morning, and thought you might need some help, so I followed you." Said the elven girl.

"You followed me." Said Rit-chan, her tone skeptical. "You're in full armor and I was moving at a good pace, yet you followed me."

"Yeah." Chirped the cheerful menace. "Oh, the magic armor gives me incredible endurance, too." She explained. Rit-chan shook her head.

"I'll take your word for it, Miria." She said, stretching her arms over her head. Miria watched her curiously. "What?" asked the teen, judging it about time to jog back to the shrine.

"You've gotten stronger." Said the elf. "And I like those strange clothes." She sighed. "I wish I could wear clothes like that." She said. "But, well, the armor and all." She shrugged. Rit-chan nodded.

"Yeah, I know." She said. "Still, you seem pretty modest for an elf." She noted. Miria blinked at her.

"Modest? What's that?" she wondered. Rit-chan chuckled.

"Silly me." She murmured. "I never noticed before, but you elven women seem to like showing a lot of skin." She noted, thinking of Gabrielle, Celsia and Rapier. "Still, you do have excellent figures." She acknowledged.

"Really?" wondered Miria. "I always wanted to wear something like Gabs or Rapier, but now I can't. Still, you look good in that outfit. Why not wear it more often?" wondered the elf. Rit-chan considered that.

"It doesn't offer much protection, but I might. I just might." She mused. Shinji would love me in this outfit; or rather, he'd love this outfit crumpled by the bedside! She thought, leering at the possibilities. "Ready to head back?" she asked her elven companion. Miria nodded.

"Oh, yeah. I just came out here because you might need someone." Said the elf. Rit-chan inclined her head.

"Thanks." She said simply, beginning to walk in preparation to jog again. Miria fell in beside her. Sure enough, the elf kept pace with her easily enough. After the first mile or so, Rit-chan was back in distance mode, and was moving smoothly and swiftly. Miria kept pace with her without noticeable trouble, though her waving swords were an obstacle. More than one tree was leveled by a careless swing.

"You look good like you are now, Rit-chan." Offered the elf as they reached the approximate half-way mark.

"Like I do now? What are you talking about, Miria?" puffed Rit-chan.

"Well, you're a bit more defined than before, and that's good, but you also seem more content." Said the elf girl. Rit-chan considered that. Could she be right? I know she's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but she is observant and honest. Rit-chan covered another few hundred yards as she thought about the statement. Maybe I am more steady now than I was before. It could be because of what I experienced there, but it could also be because of what happened with Shinji and I. More yardage went by. "Did you get a boyfriend while you were gone?" Miria interrupted her thoughts. Rit-chan almost missed a step.

"What?" she asked, her tone shocked.

"I was just thinking that all the girls talk about finding a boyfriend, and Collina seems to light up whenever she talks about her prince, so I was wondering if you found a boyfriend while you were gone." Observed Miria. Rit-chan began to laugh.

"You could say that, Miria." She acknowledged, slowing to a walk, a warm smile on her lips. "Though I also found a lover." She added quietly.

"Really?!" exclaimed Miria, turning to walk sideways, her swords waving dangerously. "What's it like?" she wondered.

"It's special." Said Rit-chan. "It's hard to explain, but it is scary, wonderful and intoxicating to be in that kind of relationship with someone." She glanced at Miria. "You ever had a boyfriend?" she asked. Miria shook her head and sighed.

"No. I didn't find one before I donned the armor, and now no one is interested in me." She smiled a bit apologetically. "I am kind of dangerous to be around." She admitted. Rit-chan smiled.

"That's ok; it doesn't bother me." She assured the young elf.

"Oh, good!" burbled Miria, "I was worried that you didn't want me near you." She confessed. Rit-chan shrugged it off.

"It's fine." She assured the elf.

"So, tell me about your lover!" begged the elf.

"Shinji?" asked Rit-chan rhetorically. "Shin was…is different than any man I've bet before." She said to begin. By the time they entered the clearing where the shrine was, they were talking like a couple of high school girls in a locker room.

-

Junpei sat up, yawning as he stretched. A moment went by before he frowned. "What am I doing in the woods? Never mind that, why am I naked? And what's that smell?" he asked aloud, smelling a pungent smell. It took him a moment to realize that it was the smell of singed hair. Standing, he waved a bit, then caught his balance. "Ohh, that doesn't feel good at all." He muttered before suddenly collapsing to his knees and puking. Roughly a quarter hour later, he managed to stand again, spitting a few times to get the taste out of his mouth.

What the hell did I do last night? He wondered to himself, beginning to stretch to get his blood moving again. There was the celebration of our sage escape from that place, and Celsia had that jug of sunmelon liquor… The man frowned. For some reason, things got hazy at that point. I do sort of remember hitting on Airi, and she was digging my studliness. He lightly hit his head a time or two. "Think, man." He ordered himself. That's right, we went back to her room while the others were still partying…holy shit! I think I scored with Airi!! Elated at this prospect, he began his victory dance. It was a minute or two later when he had another thought.

"Wonder where Airi is now? And what am I doing out here naked?" he mused aloud. Shrugging to himself, he began to move back toward the temple, which he could just barely see over the tree tops. Each step he took, he felt better. Exercise had always been his favorite thing - next to Airi, martial arts and curry, of course. Soon, he was humming a bit as he walked thought the forest, forgetting his naked state.

As he approached the shrine, he caught sight of someone moving in the trees near him. Frowning a bit, he altered course to see who was sneaking around near his Airi. Easing up, he got into position and jumped the person, only to have the dodge and throw a wicked kick at his head. His shoulder deflected the kick as he spun to face them, arms up in his fighting position. The person landed lightly on their feet, long dark hair pulled back in a pony tail, and her long ears prominently displayed. "Oh, hey, Rapier." Said Junpei, lowering his arms. "What are you doing out here?" he asked her, scratching his head. Rapier quirked and eyebrow at him.

"I think that's my question, Junpei." She said, giving him a thorough visual exam. Junpei failed to notice.

"Beats me. All I remember is going to Airi's room with her, and next thing I know, I'm here." He explained. Rapier raised her eyes back to his.

"Airi? Are you sure?" asked the kick boxer. "I'm pretty sure that Airi was with us when we poured Miria and Annette into bed about two past midnight." She explained. Still, I did drink more of that sunmelon rum that I should have, so maybe I was just hallucinating him and Celsia staggering toward her room with their lips locked. She pushed the thought away. He interest in him was not sexual. Well, ok, a little sexual. She silently amended. "What do you say to that rematch?" she challenged him. Junpei frowned.

"You've beat down another nine hundred and ninety nine fighters? That was fast." He muttered. Rapier smiled a predatory smile.

"No, but you are the only one that has ever defeated me, Junpei. What's the point of beating an opponent weaker than yourself?" she asked him, raising her arms into her preferred style. Junpei's eyes narrowed a bit and he sank into his fighting stance.

"You're on, Rapier." He said, his tone expectant. This elf girl is a skilled opponent. This should be a good workout. He thought, watching her carefully, as he remembered her incredible speed from their last fight. Rapier likewise remembered their last fight.

"Hope you learned some new tricks, Junpei." She taunted him. "The one you used last time won't work on me again."

"I didn't expect it to, Rapier." He said. "You wouldn't the fighter you are if you didn't learn from your mistakes." He added. Her weight is shifting. She's preparing to move. He noted. An instant later, she was in his face, kicking, punching and shoving. Junpei countered with blocks, dodges and deflections. Patiently, he waited for a weakness in her style to present itself. To keep her off guard, he occasionally threw punches or kicks at her, the elf melting away from the attacks to redouble her efforts to break his guard.

Back and forth the two battles, each seeking an opening to exploit. For several minutes, the battle rages, as their battle cries drifted through the forest near Celsia's shrine. He's better than I remember. Thought Rapier, throwing a blurring kata at him, hoping for a lucky hit. Junpei rode out the attack. As she finished her pattern, he suddenly jumped into her, his shoulder hitting her arms, his entire mass plowing over her like a freight train. Rapier was knocked over and landed on her ass in the grass. Junpei smiled down at her. "You've gotten better while I was gone." He noted, holding out his hand to her. Rapier reluctantly accepted the help, knowing that she had lost because he caught her off guard. Junpei was sweating a bit, and Rapier was feeling warm, so they decided they best head back for a bath before the day truly began.

"You never did tell us where you all went." Noted Rapier as the two cleared the trees. Junpei nodded.

"Well, I'm not really sure what the details were, but it was sort of like our world." He said, never having cared about what happened like Rit-chan and Airi did. He grinned. "Still, I got to meet this really cool guy! He was a total stud muffin like me, and he had the second hottest girlfriend around - Airi's the hottest, you know." He added. Rapier suppressed the urge to tell him who had slept with the night before. "Anyway, this Kaji guy was like James Bond, only better!"

"Who is this `James Bond' person?" wondered Rapier. Junpei's jaw dropped.

"You don't know who James Bond is?!" he demanded, shocked. "This is why I hate these fantasy worlds!" he muttered. "Well, Rapier, James Bond is only the suavest, most manly spy in the world! He works for British Intelligence saves the world pretty much every day!" began Junpei. By the time she reached the baths, Rapier had started to wish she hadn't of asked him who James Bond was. She also decided to see if Airi or Rit-chan could make it more comprehensible than Junpei.

"And just where were you?" asked a voice from the warm water in the baths. Rapier almost flinched.

"Out for some fresh air, Gabs." She said to her fellow elf and Junpei fighter. Dropping her towel, she stepped into the water. The Dark Elf watched her carefully.

"Fresh air, you say?" she said, moving closer to the dark-haired elf. "Must have been some mean air to do that to you." She said, pointing to the elf's arms and legs, where bruises were forming. Rapier silently cursed. Damn, she's got good eyes. She thought. Having spent a lot of time with the older Dark Elf, Rapier should have remembered her skill at discerning what had happened by simply watching carefully.

"Yeah, it was a real tough batch of air." She said, sitting in the warm water. Gabriella just watched her.

"You went off and fought him first, didn't you." She accused her friend. Rapier tried for an innocent act.

"What do you mean?" she said, "You're the one that said she'd challenge him the instant he got back."

"True. But ignored the rules and fought him anyway." Sniffed Gabs disdainfully. "I won that match fair and square, so I was supposed to go first!" she reminded her younger friend. Rapier sighed.

"Oh, fine!" she said. "Yeah, I fought him first. So sorry, Gabs. But it wasn't like I went looking for him this morning." She said. "I was out for some morning air, he just jumps at me out of nowhere, stark naked."

The Dark Elf blinked. "Naked?" she said, as if she didn't quite believe it. "Why was he naked? And more to the point, why were you naked with him?"

"I wasn't naked!" clarified Rapier angrily. "He was naked." Gabs considered Rapier for a moment.

"So?" she said, leaning back against the edge of the large sunken tub.

"So, what?" replied Rapier.

"How was he?" teased the older elf. Rapier almost fell for it, but caught herself in time. I'm getting to know you too well to fall for your tricks, Gabs.

"Not bad. I've seen worse." Said the elf nonchalantly. Gabs just hummed. For several minutes, the two were silent. Then, Gabs spoke again.

"Wonder why he was naked?"

-

The group was gathered around the large, wooden table, piled high with food stuffs. They had been eating and exchanging stories. At the moment, Annette was telling them what they had been doing. She had told them about the gathering of the elves willing to help them, and the dream journals - which had made her shudder and remark about how hard it was to sleep with those dreams. Celsia had simply told her to try it from their side. Moving on, the priestess-in-training had told them of the forging of the spell to retrieve them by the Arch Bishops, herself and Gabs.

"So, then what happened?" asked Airi, biting into another dish that looked like bread, but tastes like beef. Back to strange foods, it seems.

"Well, we prepared the Circle, cast the spell, and thought we had it fixed, but then the spell began to warp, and next thing we knew, you were all there, unconscious but safe. We brought you back here on Mike, who was the first to wake up." Explained Annette.

"So, that's what happened to the Serat." Muttered Celsia.

"Did you say `Serat'?" snapped Annette, her eyes on her mentor. "Tell me you aren't stupid enough to have tried that damned spell again, Celsia!" she yelled. Celsia looked Annette in the eyes.

"I'd cast it a thousand times and damn the consequences to get out of that place." She said simply. Rit-chan sent her a look, opening her mouth to doubtlessly flame the elf, but Airi touched her arm, shaking her head a fraction of an inch. Collina and Rapier saw the exchange, but said nothing, waiting for a better time. Annette gritted her teeth.

"Anyway," she said forcefully, "we've retrieved you here, and now that we're all together again, let's prepare for the casting that will take these three home." She said, motioning to the three humans.

"Four. Mike comes with me." Corrected Rit-chan, her eyes hooded. Might need him if I find a person known as Gendo Rokubungi infecting my world! Airi sensed her dark mood. Annette frowned.

"Well, ok, but I'm not sure what will happen when we cast the Serat on a ghost." She said, pursing her lips. "And the spirit is from our world originally, so it might not be able to leave." She noted.

"Mike goes with me." Repeated Rit-chan simply. Airi touched her arm.

"We don't have to try this today, do we?" asked the actress. The elves exchanged looks.

"We…probably shouldn't." said Celsia at last. "We still haven't figured out exactly what is going wrong with the recovery spell, and we're all pretty tired." She added, eyeing the three humans. "Did you two get any sleep?" she asked the two human women. Rit-chan glanced at her.

"Enough." She said simply. Airi nodded.

"Yes, we got some rest." Said the actress. Rit-chan was not sleeping very well though - not that I'm surprised at that. Memories of one of her first conversations with Misato arose in her mind. I might find myself borrowing from your book, Mi-chan. The elven women watched the two for a moment. It was obvious that something had happened to the two, but they weren't sure what.

"So, what was it like from your end?" asked Collina. "What was that place like?" she elaborated.

"It was a world very similar to our own." Began Airi. "We arrived at a poor time, though." She continued, telling them of their first reactions to finding themselves in a Tokyo not their own and seeing Celsia laying there. On through the first encounter with an Eva and Section 2, Rit-chan noting that if she knew then what she knew later, she wouldn't have shot at Rei-chan's unit. Airi countered with the observation that her rifle hadn't a hope of even chipping the paint of an Eva, let alone damaging one. Rit-chan just looked at Airi and said two words: synch rate. The actress moved on smoothly, leaving the others wondering what had passed between the two.

Her tale of their first encounter with Misato, Shinji, Rei and Asuka got laughs all around, as Airi was a skill orator and was making a conscious effort to put things in the best light possible. And now that I think back on it, it wasn't as bad as it seemed; at first, anyway. Noted the older woman. Rit-chan told of their time at school, and of the Stooge Alliance, which made the elves laugh. Rit-chan's dark mood evaporated as she reminisced about the time she spent with her friends and lovers. Airi began to have hope that she would pull through ok after all.

Picking up the story from Rit-chan, she told them of the first few impressions of NERV, and of Rit-chan's involvement in Asuka's little `challenge'. Onward the tale rolled, though the fights with the Angels to the decision to mine NERV for information, to the attempted synch with Shin and Asuka's Unit for herself and Rit-chan. Junpei interrupted with comments on `hot doc Akagi', which damn near sent Airi and Rit-chan into a rage, and did evoke endless cursing from Celsia - who, back in her native land - was producing dangerous effects with the high magic power.

Seeing that a change in topic was needed, Airi moved the story forward, to the point where Shinji was absorbed by the twelfth angel. At that point the story began to get complicated, as they had to try to explain to the elves - and Junpei - what was really going on. While they had some idea of the Project E scenario, they found it nearly impossible to make it understandable to the elves and the fighter. For a couple of women with excellent communication skills and a combined IQ of over three hundred to be unable to make the project understandable was a testament of how convoluted the thing was.

Deciding to cut her losses, Airi moved on, though it got no better as they told about the loss of Touji and then Shinji, of the mental rape of Asuka, to Rei's sacrifice and Hikari's first combat deploy. It ended with what they knew of Third Impact and what the pilots were attempting. The elves had gone silent long before.

"Gods above all." Whispered Collina.

"And you don't know if they succeeded?" wondered Annette.

"They had great honor." Offered Rapier.

"More like this Shinji had a pair of balls on him like boulders." Came Gab's rougher salute. Rit-chan leered.

"That he did." She murmured, remembering her last time with him. She had orgasmed until she passed out, but he had cum at least four times and was still intent on making her cum. She loved that memory, and the reminder made her pussy tingle. Beside her, Airi was smiling as well.

"You girls all seemed happy with his size." She whispered to Rit-chan. The teen giggled nastily.

"Mmm. Pity you didn't get a chance to find out for yourself." She whispered back archly.

"What makes you think I didn't?" replied Airi sweetly.

-

Celsia, Annette and the two old arch bishops were busy with working on the spell, leaving the rest to their own ends. Airi and Collina were talking out on the stone patio behind the living quarters, and Rit-chan was - once more - writing in her journal. Airi noted that she was down to her last three pages in that worn narrative of their journey. "Where's the idiot?" asked Rit-chan, closing her book and setting it back in her pack. Rummaging around in the smaller side pockets, she withdrew a stack of photos and sat back in the large stone-and-metal chair.

"He said something about exercise after he ate." Noted Collina. "And I don't see Rapier or Gabs here, so wanna bet their sparring?" she asked, grinning at Airi. Airi smiled back.

"No bet." She said simply. Her attention turned to Rit-chan. "What do you have there, Rit-chan?" she asked. The teen looked up from her stack of photos.

"Oh, some pictures I have from before. I need to get them packed down to protect them, but I wanted to look them over again before I did that." She said. Airi's interest was caught.

"You told me you were collecting pictures, but I never got around to seeing them." She said. "May I?" she asked. Rit-chan started to hand her the stack, but Airi just shook her head and moved over to where Rit-chan sat, looking over her shoulder. Leaning back and to the side slightly, Rit-chan slowly flipped through the photos. Airi silently considered each one, locking them into her photographic memory. Rit-chan has yet again surprised me. She thought, seeing pictures of not only her friends, but of places in Tokyo 3, inside NERV, from the Zoo and Rei's place. Her pictures covered the entire spectrum from the benign, to the every-day life, to the battles and aftermath of those battles, to the kind of pictures that would get her suspended from her high school. Airi blinked at one such picture. "Um, Rit-chan, where did you get that picture?" she asked the teen, who only giggled.

"Rei-chan helped me with this project. Did you know that the MAGI records all it's feeds in ultra high def and all it takes to print them out is the right commands?" she asked. Airi considered that.

"Makes sense. And Rei knew the right commands, I assume." Rit-chan turned to look at her.

"Rei-chan knew far more than she ever said, Airi." Said the teen seriously. "I wonder if she didn't know more than that bastard and his pet bitch." She snarled. The actress had known that the strange First Child was pivotal to their plans to escape, but she had apparently underestimated the girl. "It was her plan to hijack Third Impact, you know." Noted Rit-chan. "Shinji just blurted out to her one night what he knew from his mother, and she just blinked at him, considered his confession and told him that she could assist him in completing Yui's plans."

"It was Rei's plan to hijack Third Impact?" asked Airi. Rit-chan nodded.

"Shinji had been in favor of just scuttling NERV in it's entirely with the Evas, but she explained that the threat of Third Impact would remain as long as it was uncompleted. That was one wild night, believe me." She said, shaking her head a bit at the memories.

"You were there?" interjected Collina. Rit-chan nodded.

"I was spending a lot of time there already, but yeah, I was there." She said. Airi smiled at her.

"In bed, was it?" she teased. Rit-chan shrugged.

"What's it matter?" she said easily. Airi touched her shoulder fondly. That sneaky girl! Thought the actress. I had thought that it was Shinji's plan, which is one of the reasons Mi-chan and I…holy fucking shit! Airi's eyes opened a bit wider. She tricked me by tricking Mi-chan first!

"Brilliant." She murmured. Rit-chan frowned and turned her head to see the look on Airi's face.

"What is it, Airi?" she asked her older partner.

"Rei-chan tricked us all, Rit-chan." Said the woman, smiling. "I have to admit, I never saw it coming, either."

"Tricked? How so?" wondered Rit-chan. The fact that Airi was obviously impressed by whatever Rei had done made her very curious.

"Rei got Misato alone and told her that Shinji had a plan." Explained the dark-haired woman. "Since it was supposedly Shinji's plan, Mi-chan immediately went for it. Then, the First told me that Misato and Shinji had a plan to deal with Third Impact. She made it sound like Misato and Shinji had worked it out, so I just took her word for it." The actress smiled. "She deserves an Oscar for that performance. I never had a clue she was tricking me."

"It was that damned poker face of hers." Nodded Rit-chan. "I couldn't read her, either." Just then, there was a small explosion from the area where the group working on the spell had gone. "Wanna bet it's Celsia again?" muttered Rit-chan, tucking her photos back into her bag before slipping it's straps over her shoulder and moving toward the source of the explosion.

-

Gabs lay panting on the grass, Junpei kneeling over her. The two had been fighting for at least a half hour straight, and it was taking its toll on them both. Gabs had discovered that Junpei hadn't been using his full skill and strength when he defeated her the first time. Now, he was serious. Still, she wasn't a push over, and had been working hard to increase her skills while he was gone. But this time, he isn't tearing my clothes off. She thought. More the pity. The Dark Elf looked up at him. "So, should I strip like last time?" she asked him. Junpei blinked at her.

"What? Do you have another spell fragment on you?" he asked her, missing her point. Gabs mentally sighed. Well, I already knew that he wasn't the keenest sword around. Reaching behind herself, she tugged the knot on her top loose and tossed the animal-skin bikini to the side, leaving her bare-chested. No eye patch, at least. She thought, wiggling her hips to help her with her tiny bottoms. Once they were down to her shins, she kicked them off, leaving her bare. Junpei just stared.

"What are you doing?" he asked her. Gabs sharp eyes caught a twitch in his pants. Well, that's a start, anyway. She thought.

"I challenged you to a rematch, didn't I?" she said innocently, sitting up, her breasts jiggling enticingly. "Last time, the deal was if I lost, I stripped. I lost this time too, so I'm stripping." She said nonchalantly. Careful attention to his groin told her that he was getting bigger. A little more and I should be able to get what I want. "You know, we Dark Elves have a custom." She began. "If a warrior challenges a foe and is defeated by that foe, then the foe becomes the master of that elf for the next full day." She hinted. Junpei's eyes wandered to her breasts, capped with dark nipples. "I'll do anything you ask me to." She said, easing her legs apart a little to give him a clear view of her pussy.

"You can make curry?" asked Junpei. The orange-haired elf blinked. I guess I was too subtle.

"No, but you can have sex with me." She said invitingly, reaching out and touching his dick through his leather pants. He was hard, and she began to stroke him. "I'll do whatever you want to, Junpei." She said. He swallowed with some difficulty. Skillfully, the Dark Elf unbuttoned the pants and slipped down his zipper.

"S…sorry, Gabs, but I'm in a relationship with Miss Airi." He said as her hand closed around his dick. Gently, the elf began to jack his dick.

"If you're talking about last night, stud," said the elf, "sorry to tell you, but it wasn't Airi you were fucking." Using her free hand, she got his pants down to his thighs, so his dick was free. Leaning closer to him, she pressed her lips to his.

"B…but Miss Airi…!" he began as Gabriella pushed him back on the grassy, straddling his hips as she did so. Situating herself, she began to rub her pussy along his dick, covering him in her lubricant. Once she felt that he was sufficiently coated, she raised her hips and positioned his tip at her opening. Looking into his eyes, she smiled as she prepared to sink onto his erection.

"Went to bed about an hour after you, as did Rit-chan." She said, feeling his tip spread her lips. "You were doing Celsia." Said the elf before dropping her weight onto him, impaling herself on his dick. "Aaahhh!" she sighed, feeling him bottom out in her pussy. After a moment of stillness, she began to hump against him, feeling an orgasm build inside her. Looking at Junpei's face, she almost laughed. He looks like he's about to cry! Is he that obsessed with the human woman? She quickened her pace. Well, let's see if I can't do something about that. Soon, she was madly slamming her hips against his.

Junpei was getting into the act in spite of his mental anguish. With a sexy, energetic elf riding his dick like Gabs was, the hormone ball didn't really have a chance. Sitting up, he captured the elf's chest with his arms and kissed her, his tongue sliding into her mouth. Gabs continued to grind her groin against his. Feeling himself approaching orgasm, he pushed forward, laying the elf on her back and beginning a powerful, deep-thrusting rhythm in her soaked groin. Gabs locked her legs over his waist and urged him on. It wasn't long before he pushed as deep as possible and shot his load into her. Gabs felt him blow inside her as she wrestled with is tongue.

Moments went by as she reached her own orgasm, both of them frozen as they rested. Gradually, Junpei moved off her and lay back beside her, panting a bit. Gabs recovered first and turned to look at him. He looked disappointed. "What's wrong, lover?" she asked him.

"I shouldn't have had sex with you, Gabs. Now I won't have a chance with Miss Airi." He complained. Gabs smothered a giggle.

"You never had a chance with her, lover." Said the elf. "She's done all but kick you in the nuts, and you still think she would want to be with you?" She shook her head.

"But, but she's nice to me!" denied Junpei. Gabs giggled.

"Yeah, because you're gullible and she finds it convenient to use you." Said the elf. And frankly, I can see why she does that. Gabriella rolled to her side and then her knees before bending over and licking his currently-limp dick. Junpei gasped. Smirking, Gabs took hold of his manhood and engulfed the entire tip, sucking on it like she would a ball of sugar candy. Junpei swiftly began to harden again. For several seconds, the only sound in their small clearing was the wet slurping sounds of the elf giving him head. Once he was hard again, she let his dick slip from her mouth, turning her head to smile at him. "Ready for round two?" she asked him.

Junpei was indeed ready for round two. Moving to his knees, he tugged her hips around got into position behind her, pressing against her lower back with one hand while his other was on her the crest of her hip. Pushing forward, he searched for her opening. Reaching under herself, Gabs seized his penis and positioned it at her opening, where he immediately sheathed himself to the balls. The elven raider moaned as he began a steady stroke in her sex. Not bad. Better than the swineorcs, anyway. She thought, feeling another orgasm building. Junpei was doing a bit better, since he had cum once already. Still, he hadn't had sex since he decided that Airi was waiting for him to propose to her, so he was a bit rusty - not that he would have been able to match Shinji's skills at his best. And in spite of what he thought, jerk off sessions did not keep his love skills from rusting. Thus, he barely managed to get her a run-of-the-mill orgasm before blowing a second load into her.

Feeling the average orgasm wash though her, she mentally nodded once to herself. Well, that was worth it, though I had hoped for more from such a good fighter. Oh well; he's a human after all. Feeling him tug his limp cock from her full pussy, she sighed and reached for her clothes. As she was settling her top, she heard the sounds of someone moving in the woods near her. Glancing at Junpei, she found that he had fallen asleep with his pants around his knees, his limp dick slowly gluing itself to his thigh. Opening her mouth to wake him, she realized she was too late.

"Oh, God! I so didn't need to see that!" came the voice of Rit-chan. The teen stood at the edge of the woods, her right hand clenched around the grip of her newly-acquired flat-top AR, her left touching her forehead. "Gabriella, can you please do something about that moron's lack of covering?" she asked the elf nicely. Gabs laughed and reached over to pull his pants up so they roughly covered his crotch again.

"It's ok to look now, Ritsuko." Said the elf. Rit-chan opened her eyes.

"Have you seen Rapier lately?" asked the teen. The Dark Elf frowned.

"She was here a bit ago." Said the Dark Elf. Looking around, she didn't see the younger fighter.

"Hopefully she left before Lord Jerk Off there dropped his pants." Muttered Rit-chan. "Anyway, Gabriella, when you're ready, come on back. Celsia thinks we'll be ready for an attempt tomorrow morning and she wants to go over the spell with you and Annette."

"Thank you, Ritsuko." Said the Dark Elf. Junpei stirred.

"Rit-chan?" he mumbled, moving a bit. Gabs saw Rit-chan's left hand close on the fore grip of her strange weapon. "Issat you?" he mumbled.

"I'm outta her before he wakes up." Said Rit-chan, disgust in her voice. Spinning on her heel, she marched away from the two. Junpei managed to sit up a short time later. Gabs watched him for a moment. Well, he will most likely be gone by tomorrow after noon, so I got it just in time. Satisfied with the experiment, she watched him sit up.

"Welcome back." Said Gabs, her tone friendly. Junpei stretched.

"Did I hear Rit-chan just a minute ago?" he asked her. The spiky-haired elf nodded.

"Yeah. She gave me a message and went back to the shrine. You might want to go talk to her or Airi about tomorrow, Junpei." She suggested. At the mention of Airi's name, his eyes lit up.

"Yeah! She'll be worried about me." He decided. Gabs said nothing as he jogged off, zipping his pants as he went. Laying back down on the soft, warm grass, she stared at the unnaturally blue sky above her through the tree branched.

"So, you did get him first." Came the voice of Rapier. Glancing over, she saw the kick boxer softly land next to a tree. Apparently, she had been there the entire time. "Sometimes, I wonder about your hobbies." Said the dark-haired elf, stopping next to her. Gabs smirked at her.

"Hey, I'm a Dark Elf, Rapier." Shrugged the older elf. "You know the legends about us." Rapier pursed her lips.

"I never heard them all, and I thought that they were just silly superstitions, anyway." She said. Gabs sent her a questioning look. "Yes, I heard that we were one house, but the Dark Elf tribe broke away from the main house many generations ago, and have lived apart from man and elf since then. I've heard of your tribe's proclivity for strange and unnatural activities. What didn't I hear?" Gabs considered it.

"We're the only match for the High Elves in raw power as far as magic goes, but…" she trailed off. Rapier waited patiently. "It's a long story." Dismissed the older elf. "Get me drunk some time and I'll tell you all I know. But for now, we should probably head back." Said the Dark Elf, rolling easily to her feet. Side by side, the strange pair made their way to the shrine.

-

Rit-chan brushed her hair as she and Airi prepared for bed. On her bed lay her journal, the last page filled in. The two had high hopes for tomorrow, as Annette and Gabs would be casting the spell with Celsia. Still, there was a certain tension in the pair. "Nearly two years." Murmured Rit-chan to herself.

"Yes." Agreed Airi softly, setting aside her NERV laptop and beginning to pull off her clothes for bed. Rit-chan was in her bra and skirt, having taken off her shirt and untied her hair before deciding that she should brush her hair before bed. "It's been a strange journey, hasn't it?"

Rit-chan nodded. "Yes, it has." She agreed. Finished with her brushing, she set the brush back in her bag before reaching behind her to unfasten her bra, letting it drop to her lap. Tucking it into her pack also, she stood and unzipped her skirt, letting it slip down her legs before wiggling out of her panties and reaching into her bag for the super-oversized NERV logo shirt. Easily slipping the shirt on, she pulled her hair from under it and tossed her head a time or two to settle it before slipping into her bed, which was a few feet from Airi's bed.

Airi finished removing her pants and reached into her bag, pulling out a loose silk shirt. Pulling it on, she fastened the middle button only, leaving it loose and comfortable on her naked torso. Hesitating for an instant, she reached under the hem of the silk shirt - which sat just below her hips - and skinned off her own panties. It would seem that both Rit-chan and myself have adapted to the lifestyle of Mi-chan and her crew. She thought, smiling a little at the thought of the Major and her Pilots.

Slipping into her own bed, she glanced at Rit-chan, who nodded and blew out the triple candles. The room plunged into darkness. For several minutes, the two were silent. Finally, Rit-chan spoke. "Do you think we did the right thing?" she asked softly. Airi glanced at her, though she couldn't see her in the dark room.

"I'm sure we did." Assured the older woman. Rit-chan sighed.

"I wish I knew that they were all right." She muttered. Airi considered her options. Finally, she made her choice. Getting up, she took the couple of steps to Rit-chan's bed and reached down touching the teen's shoulder.

"May I?" she asked. In response, Rit-chan scooted over to the edge of her bed and held open the covers. The silk-clad woman slipped into her bed, the narrow space insuring that they were snuggled close to each other. Once they were settled, Airi spoke again. "What does your heart tell you, Rit-chan?"

"I…it tells me that they'll do their best." She whispered. Airi tightened her hug, feeling Rit-chan's cheek against her throat.

"Do you trust them?" she asked. Rit-chan replied immediately.

"Of course. They're my friends. And my lovers." She added softly. Airi filed the plural of lover away for future discussion.

"So, can you trust your heart?" asked Airi.

"I want to, but my mind doesn't agree with my heart." Explained Rit-chan. "I keep thinking that I should have stayed and fought. They were my crew, Airi!" she whispered, clutching her a bit tighter to herself. "I've never left my crew high and dry when they needed me."

"And you didn't this time." Assured the actress. "They won, Rit-chan. I promise you, they won." Ritsuko pressed her face a bit closer to Airi's throat.

"How can you know?" wondered the teen. Airi considered how to assure her younger team mate.

"Shinji wouldn't let anything hurt his lovers, right?" she asked. Rit-chan nodded. "And Asuka woke up, didn't she?" pressed the actress. Another nod. "And this was Rei's plan to being with, so how could they fail?" asked the dark haired woman of the teen in her arms. Rit-chan was silent for many minutes.

"I guess they couldn't." she said at last, her lips soft against Airi's throat. "Sorry about this, Airi." She said a moment later. "I'm not usually this weepy." She said, a single laugh vibrating through her body, close to Airi's own. The woman stroked her back.

"I know, Rit-chan." She soothed the girl. "So, are you going to make it?" Rit-chan nodded.

"Yeah. I'm going to be fine. I trust them, so I can stop worrying about them." She assured the actress. Rit-chan moved in her arms, and a moment later, she felt the teen press her lips to her own briefly. "Thanks, Airi." She whispered. Airi smiled and touched Rit-chan's cheek fondly.

"Any time, Rit-chan." She assured her, carefully hugging the teen to herself again. Within minutes, the two were asleep.

-

"Gods damn it, you fucking moron!" screamed Gabs and Annette in perfect unison. Celsia picked herself up off of Junpei, who had been hit by her spell-hurtled form. The priestess-in-training and the Dark Elf were covered in dirt and smoking a bit from the destruction of the Seran Serat for the second time. Around the circle, the other elves watched, mouths open as the spell burst over their heads like a cluster bomb, fragments flying everywhere. "What the fuck were you doing?!"

"Hey! It wasn't my fault!" screamed back the blonde elf. "If this asshole hadn't called me Akagi, I would…!"

"Don't push your fuck up off on me, Celsia!" interrupted Junpei hotly. "You've tried this spell three times now, and failed each time!" On top of Mike, Airi and Rit-chan were just smiling resignedly. On Rit-chan's lap rested a fresh, heavy-duty notebook. Plucking a Sharpie permanent marker from her bag, the teen began to make large letters on the cover. As Junpei and Celsia got deeper into their argument, Airi sighed.

"Here we go again." Muttered the actress. Rit-chan grunted a reply, shading some of the letters on her new book's cover. Curious, Airi looked over at the teen's art work. Seeing it, she knew the teen would be fine.

"If you two are done with the foreplay, let's get going." She yelled to the elf and the fighter. The two turned to stare at her. "The day is young, and we have to get those spell fragments." Explained the actress. Rit-chan nodded.

"Yes. Let's motor. Ready, Mike?" she asked her tank.

"Meow!" came the reply. The assembled friends of the hunters glanced at each other as Junpei turned to look at them.

"Yeah, we should get started." He muttered. Suddenly, he leapt at Annette, tearing her robes off. "May as well start here!" he yelled maniacally. "Let's see if any are close by!" Both Airi and Rit-chan sweat dropped. Looking at each other, they nodded. Reaching inside the driver compartment of Mike, the teen withdrew her G36 and racked the bolt. Airi stood and jumped lightly off the tank.

"Junpei, that's enough!" Said the actress over the screams of the elves as he went after Collina now that Annette was naked and cursing him angrily. Rit-chan settled in, getting a steady bead on the fighter.

Just a flesh wound would be ok, right? She asked herself. Sure. As long as it's his balls! She agreed to herself. Her point of aim shifted a bit. Behind her, on top of her bag, was the new book, the covered emblazoned with two words in heavy permanent marker:

SECOND TOUR

END OF EPILOG: TWHE