Sunday's back, so that means it's update time. Here we start with the first scene of Chapter 5, which is probably going to be the biggest chapter to date, as I previously mentioned. Today, we catch back up with a shell-shocked Shinji and find out a little bit more about what kind of situation what he has landed himself into this time:
A heavy silence fell over the kitchen following Asuka’s outrageous claim. After all, somehow, someway, Shinji Ikari had managed to land himself not within the bowels of a physics-defying enigma or something as equally extraordinary, but inside the mind of his frequently contradictory roommate.
He was stuck in the head of Asuka Langley-Sohryu. The sheer ridiculousness of the idea made his own spin.
One thing was for certain, however: he was very glad about having listened to Asuka’s prior advice. As he was feeling right now, Shinji seriously doubted his knees could have supported the weight of his body.
“I’m... inside of Asuka...?” the young man eventually repeated, his eyes looking through the young redhead sitting before him. “W-What...? B-But how...?!”
“I have no clue, maybe it was the Angel?” Asuka sighed. “In case it wasn’t clear, this sort of thing has never happened before.”
Much to the redhead’s dismay, it was painfully apparent that her truthful answer had done very little to bolster Shinji’s spirits, even if it was clearly better than keeping the young man in the dark. Nevertheless, it was also obvious that Shinji would need some serious time to process his situation, and that was time that Asuka was more than willing to offer him. She had things of her own to think about, after all.
“I guess you were the strange thing I felt before, then,” the redhead eventually surmised after a long period of silence, narrowing her eyes for a brief second. “Silly me, of course you were. I can actually feel how you don't belong here right now if I don’t let my assumptions cloud my judgement.
“I never knew you could laugh as hard as that, though. Did something funny happen?”
“Something happened, alright,” the young man replied, arms instinctively moving to hug himself. “Not exactly funny, though.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“Not now, please. Just...” Shinji shook his head, looking like he had suddenly aged an entire decade. “Can you start again? From the beginning?”
“Where we are. Who you are,” the Third Child continued, grabbing hold of the tea he had discarded before. “That kind of thing.”
Asuka nodded, and reclined back into her seat with a sigh. After all, the concepts that Shinji was asking for were, in essence, very simple for her to understand, but explaining them to someone without the ability to see things as she did would prove to be quite a bit more of a challenge.
Besides, Asuka didn’t fail to notice how hard the young man’s hands were shaking, either. It looked like whatever explanation she decided to go with would also have the added difficulty of needing to calm Shinji down.
“Well, like I said before, this is the inside of Asuka’s mind. Her consciousness, where all the concepts, beliefs and desires that make Asuka Asuka gather,” the redhead began, struggling to come up with a decent simile for her definition. “You could think of this place as one big puzzle, I guess. One in which the different pieces of Asuka’s personality work together to make a coherent whole.”
"So... you are something like that, too?" Shinji interrupted, watching her intently over the top of his mug. “A piece in the puzzle?”
"In layman's terms, yeah, although I guess my actual value would be more along the lines of ten or twenty pieces, if we account for an Aspect like Miss Thou being worth a single one...” Asuka trailed off for a second, before waving her hand with a click of her tongue. “But I guess that’s not such a great comparison, anyway. The precise truth is far more complicated than that."
"...How much more complicated?"
"Quite a bit. Like, are you familiar with Jungian psychology?"
Even if no words were used to answer her question, the blank look Shinji sent her way told Asuka everything she needed to know.
"...Guess not,” the redhead sighed. “Not that surprising considering that the Walls of Jericho went over your head."
“The... Walls of Jericho?” Shinji echoed, the name sounding vaguely familiar to him for some reason. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“It’s important because...”
A frown grew over Asuka’s features, her voice going silent for several seconds. Long enough to make even Shinji Ikari impatient.
“Sorry, I... kinda went blank, there.” The redhead shook her head, focusing back on the task at hand. “...Oh, well. Guess it’s really not that important, then; let’s just say that I am important around here and leave it at that for the moment. I’ll show you how later but, for now, on to the minor aspects that you’ll find around here.”
"...Okay," Shinji agreed, following on the girl’s initiative. “You said earlier that you thought I was one of those, didn’t you?”
"But shouldn't I have looked like Asuka, then?"
"Not necessarily. Minor aspects can show up as many different things, you see. There are some for Kaji, Misato, Hikari..." Asuka elaborated, motioning with her hand towards Shinji. "A minor aspect that looks like you has appeared before, too, although not in the same context you were in."
"I see. What context did it appear in, then?"
"The context? Oh, it was..."
The frown returned to Asuka’s face, the redhead falling into contemplative silence a second time.
“Is something wrong?”
"No, it’s just... I... don't remember," Asuka replied, scratching the top of her head. “...Funny. That’s never happened before, either. What’s with me today?”
“Maybe you’re... tired?”
“I can’t get tired,” the girl retorted. "And before you ask: no, I know it happened, but the details are fuzzy. Like it's lingering right at the edge of my memory, or something. It’s kinda frustrating."
The girl’s words matched her expression, the frown that had appeared a pair of times before slowly but steadily growing in size, something that made alarm bells sound within Shinji’s own mind. After all, the young man had no desire to find out whether this... piece of Asuka handled frustration in the same manner his roommate did.
“So... you said that the Asuka from before is a part of Asuka? Isn’t that a bit weird?” the Third Child asked, managing to win the girl’s attention back. “I mean, it’s just that... she looked and sounded so different.”
"Yup, she is Asuka, just not the Asuka you know,” the redhead answered, going back to a positive mood in the flash of an eye. “Think of her like a mask, of sorts."
"Yeah. Like, haven't you ever seen Asuka act differently with different people? I mean, I’m sure you do it, too.”
Shinji contemplated the redhead’s words for a few moments, quickly coming up with plenty of cases in which they could apply to Asuka and him both. In Asuka’s case, though, Horaki-san seemed to be the best example, considering that the Class Representative was about the only person his roommate appeared to be completely at ease with.
"That's the sort of thing I'm talking about. In this case, though, it's more about relaxation and leisure than social interaction. Going by previous experience, Miss Thou probably came to be due to Asuka immersing herself in some sort of story, like from a book or something like that."
“Oh, okay,” Shinji acknowledged, figuring that it didn’t sound that weird for his mental images to actually exist within his brain, all things considered. Shortly after, though, the young man’s eyes went wide. “...Wait a second, that means that the real Asuka...”
“Is going around, living her life as usual?” Asuka supplied with a grin. “Bingo!”
“That’s a relief... I thought that she was stuck here, too.” The young man let out a breath, happy to finally have one of the questions that had been bothering him for a long while answered. But then, another realisation came to the forefront of his mind. “W-Wait a minute! And what about me?!”
Asuka blinked, taken aback by the sudden change.
“What about you?”
“Yeah!” Shinji insisted, pointing a finger at the outside. “I mean, if I’m here, who’s out there?!”
“Oh, that. I... have no idea. I’m sorry.”
“And can’t you find out?!” The Third Child stood up, his chair clattering to the floor with a heavy crash. “I mean, you said that you’re important here, right?! Can’t you... look through Asuka’s eyes, or check her memory or something like that?!”
“I could... once,” Asuka replied, looking away with a strained smile. “But then stuff happened, and I... kiiinda can’t, anymore.”
“W-What do you mean?”
Asuka scratched the back of her head, groaning at the idea of another complicated subject. Nevertheless, the redhead slowly brought her head back to its original position...
“That’s another one of those things that’s pretty hard to explain, but I mean that-“
...and that was when her eyes went wide as saucers.
“Omygosh, Shinji!” Asuka exclaimed, pointing a finger to his hands. “W-What’s that?!”
Shinji followed Asuka’s shaking finger and looked downwards, quickly finding out that all he could see was the kitchen’s table.
Through his hands.
“What the hell?!”
“You’re... fading away?!” Asuka speculated, eyes fixated on the steadily panicking young man. The girl’s head turned to look behind her a second later, though, her attention moving to a point far beyond. “...No, you’re being recognized as a concept and modified along with the rest of the plane?! But that shouldn’t happen! Don’t tell me they-!”
“Asuka!” Shinji interrupted, bringing the redhead’s attention back to himself. “What’s going on?!”
“Don’t worry, this is happening because Asuka’s situation just changed! You’re only being swept into the flux!” the girl quickly explained, leaning forward to grab Shinji’s hands. “You’ll probably wind up somewhere else, but I’ll find you, okay?! Just remember: whatever you do, don’t-!”
Whatever the redhead intended to say was cut short by a sudden shift in scenery, the Third Child blinking only to find black space all around him. The warm contact of Asuka’s fingers also disappeared from his own, doing very little to calm the young man.
“Asuka?” Shinji screamed into the void. “Asuka?!”
But no answer came, other than the familiar feeling of having his senses suddenly assaulted by both sickening sights and sounds.
The Third Child writhed through the brief, painful experience, and then slowly opened his eyes, dreading what he would find. And Shinji was right to feel so, for he quickly recognized his surroundings:
White, clinical and terrifying.