It was with some chagrin that I realized, after having avoided writing chapter three from Nozomi’s perspective, that there was really no way to avoid writing this chapter from Maya’s perspective. I know one of my prereaders had campaigned vigorously for that chapter to be told from Nozomi’s point of view, so it was a bit awkward. Still, aside from the pragmatic issues (it would’ve been difficult to tell this chapter from Shinji’s point of view, just on the level of how involved he could’ve been), there was one reason I found this approach ultimately best: I’d started running out of issues for Shinji to confront. Perhaps that was poor planning on my part, but on the other hand, it meant I could explore another person’s issues without the distancing of using Shinji’s point of view. So, ultimately I’m comfortable with this approach, and for a while, I plan to rotate POV characters, making this more of an ensemble piece. Shinji will return to the forefront, and I do worry about balancing when that should happen.
But that’s an issue to confront later. For now, we have Maya, an unusual choice of protagonist, I’m sure, despite her status as a fan-favorite in some circles. This chapter about Maya and the Cult of Lilith is one I’ve had in mind for some time. This is really the point the Cult serves in the story, I should say.
Aside from her “cult” status among the cast, Maya is the last person you’d expect to be a Cultist, and I chose that deliberately. I felt her background would lend to her searching for a new direction, and Maya has always been a character who believed wholeheartedly in the goodness of civilization and science. In that sense, I felt her new role wasn’t so much of a stretch after all.
I had a fair number of ideas about how this chapter would play out that I ultimately changed even before I finished outlining. I’d originally thought Eisheth would appear to Maya as Masuyo and serve to subvert the Cult that way, without Maya even realizing she was being deceived until very late, but I quickly discarded that notion, for it didn’t flow well with others. I’d also thought Maya would meet with Shinji over lunch, and we’d realize she was a Cultist only after, but that didn’t fit with the ending of last chapter, so I chose to reverse the reveal instead. Masuyo mentions Archon Juniper in chapter one, remember? And Shinji clearly knows her and who she is.
The bit about Nozomi’s attacker exploding himself into goo was something I’d briefly had in a draft of chapter three, but I decided to cut it and put it here instead because it really helped ground the opening and didn’t fit in three. I expanded the scene dramatically with Maya’s involvement. Of course, the man could’ve popped himself as soon as he was captured, but his purpose here is to intimidate the characters and, by extension, the audience. This was a concern that was relayed to me about last chapter—that to an extent, Eisheth didn’t present a pervasive threat. It’s true chapter three presented a bit of a lull in terms of Eisheth’s large scale campaign, so I set about to try to change that. The vanguard’s rhetoric is confident, and his cohorts’ efforts to subvert existing institutions and groups, to plant eyes where Maya would find them—they serve to foster anxiety and fear. These are the reasons people would turn to Eisheth, and she and her followers all know that.
The theme of this chapter is hope in the face of despair, in spite of things we wanted that we never got, that we regretted but could never fix. Maya is searching for Ritsuko, or to replace her with Ami, and her inability to move on complicates her existing relationship. Ami, in turn, is dating a woman who strikingly resembles her dead girlfriend, Minori. Archon Camellia refuses to trust SDF or the government after her son was killed, and Lorenz has come back spefically to recruit from people who have found only despair in the new world.
There is also a secondary element of trust vs. suspicion and paranoia. Eisheth promotes suspicion and fear, and Maya’s inability to trust people with relgious faith (as opposed to her own logical belief in the goodness of what Rei has done) contributes to the debacle at Camellia’s apartment. Camellia’s own intransigent suspicion, along with Misato’s refusal to trust that Camellia might realize the truth, plays a part as well.
Let me speak a bit on the character of Ami. When I first conceived of her, I had in mind someone who worked most to mitigate the connotations of the word cult. She’s blonde, fair, pretty, upbeat, and caring. That’s a good start. Her dark backstory is something I came up with rather suddenly, to contrast against Maya’s refusal to tell her own story. I figured that people’s stories of how they came back from the sea and why would be important in the Cult. I admit I wondered whether it made sense for Ami to be so idealistic despite that experience, but in part, I viewed it as being something of a defense mechanism, too. Ami is very little like Ritsuko, and that’s purposeful. Any resemblance is only superficial, to emphasize how faintly Maya is grasping for something like Ritsuko (or for contact in general), and Maya’s hesitation to enter into a relationship with Ami shows how she’s still holding a candle for Ritsuko, waiting and hoping for her to come back.
I realized some ways through the outlining of this chapter that I needed to really keep things moving. The end of this chapter should come with some distinct change in the circumstances and move the story forward. It seems like an obvious maxim, but it’s still something I had to ponder. I decided that the time for Eisheth to wait and let things develop had to be over. This is the beginning of her efforts in earnest to destabilize human civilization as a whole, even before her main invasion force arrives. Hence, Eisheth’s Reckoning. The honeymoon is over. Things are about to get worse, and the anticipation over what Eisheth’s Reckoning is and how it may come about is, I hope, what keeps this chapter focused and gives the story the forward momentum it needs in the coming chapters.