Wow, was this a tough chapter to write. The end product is very different from what I initially conceived of. Originally, it was going to be Rei watching over several different fronts of the war, including Maya’s in particular. I quickly realized that merely watching is kinda dull, and I was losing focus on Rei in favor of the other characters. That, plus some comments from shelter (who also assisted in proofing this chapter) led me to spend more time trying to explain Rei’s situation and to keep tighter focus on her.
One of the big consequences of this shift is that Rei is more proactive; once she’s done merely watching in the Sakai battle scene, she’s able to do things, which is rather important whenever you write a character. A character who cannot act or affect his situation is challenging to write at best.
Another consequence is that this chapter covers less territory plotwise than the originally conceived chapter did. Had I followed through with my initial idea, the war with Eisheth would’ve ended with Rei’s sacrifice. There were some logical issues with this notion. First, just because Rei occupies Eisheth doesn’t mean that Eisheth’s children will stop coming for mankind. I toyed with various ideas to approach this problem, in particular with Rei’s remarks that Eisheth constantly speaks to her children and permits them no free thought. If I had gone ahead with a big battle as I intended, with Rei’s sacrifice being the only act that could end it, perhaps I would’ve stayed with that idea. Here, Rei is driven to take action to keep the situation from getting worse, but it’s not rock bottom, and it would’ve been very anticlimactic to end the war at this juncture.
Writing a seemingly omnipotent and omniscient character is very, very trying. Long before I wrote this chapter, I had ideas about the kinds of limitations Rei needed to have to be relatable and writeable. She couldn’t be all-powerful while in conflict with Eisheth. Hence, there are rules. Those rules are necessarily detailed in the text, despite my misgivings about doing so, because I feel knowing them is key to understanding Rei’s decision-making and dilemmas. A lot of exposition is always dangerous; it’s an easy trap for a writer, but here, I could see no meaningful way to avoid it and still have Rei’s thought process be understood.
One of those key elements is the set of rules that governs Rei and Eisheth’s conflict. I had some specific ideas about what these rules were from the very beginning: the concept of balance between the two forces, of some abilities being “free” and not subject to limitation (communication with one’s side in particular), of other abilities implicitly allowing the opponent to perform the same action at any time and place of choosing. It was this last point in particular that formed the thematic backbone of the chapter: that Rei would be punished for the mistakes she had made in using too much power. This element actually ended up weakened in the chapter as written, for Rei made the choice knowing the risks, where before I had imagined her horror at this point stemming from feeling pressured to act (as she had in chapter six).
Some new elements are introduced here, in particular some of the other Seeds of Life: Agrat Bat Mahlat and Naamah, the other Lilith-like Seeds. To complete the Hebrew mythology theme, I imagine the other two Adam-like seeds would have to be something like Cain and Abel, but I have no plans at this time to directly mention them. Still, they exist, and we can see that somehow, some way, Eisheth managed to merge with all of them. The children of Agrat and Naamah are discussed as well, but only those of Agrat are directly seen in this chapter.
Part of what makes this story about Shinji more than other characters is that he has a continuing role in each chapter, even when others like Asuka, Nozomi, Misato, and Rei float in and out based on whether the focus comes to them. Shinji’s continuing journey toward standing up as a paragon of humanity is on track. It is, perhaps, the only continuing storyline that really remains of the original idea that this would be Shinji’s story primarily, and his story would intersect with these other characters’ from time to tiem.
It is, perhaps, telling that Shinji and Rei’s relationship has received at least as much focus, perhaps more so, than Shinji and Asuka’s. I must admit I’m quite a fan of those two, but it was much more interesting to me to write Rei as looking in from the outside on Shinji and Asuka’s relationship. There is, of course, much more going on for Rei, and she can’t afford to merely worry over that. Is it love that Rei feels for him? In one sense, yes. But this is about something more fundamental than two people living their lives together. This is about connection. I’m not sure I even see it as a romantic love. There are good reasons it lacks a physical element, after all.
Originally, I planned for Rei and Eisheth to confront each other directly throughout the chapter, using a setting that was more like something out of The Matrix, or like a chess board at a park, with Rei and Eisheth playing on it. I went from this to the idea of a ribbon of time that Rei gazed into, but I eventually settled on the portrayal seen here: where Rei can choose to appear at a place and time, but otherwise, she sees as much as possible (subject to the agreement with Eisheth) but doesn’t exist at any one particular place. Indeed, the only way Rei and Eisheth interact is through their avatars.
I had a slightly different ending scene in place, with some explicit imagery of what it meant for Rei and Eisheth to become divorced from the rest of space and time. I eventually decided against this, for similar reasons to the above. It seemed, ultimately, more effective to see what a person would see: Rei disappears, with no sure sign that she’s gone for good, but the feeling that she must be is unavoidable.
The role of Kaworu in this chapter was originally to be more like a mouthpiece for the reader’s disdain and dislike of Eisheth. Where Rei would be quiet and focused on the conflict at hand, Kaworu would’ve had the luxury of openly calling Eisheth out. But this all played into the “park” setting that I originally envisioned the mind-games taking place. With the removal of that aspect, I tried to keep Kaworu as someone to give Rei advice and refocus her efforts. I don’t think this stands out quite as much, unfortunately, but it fits the needs of the story better.
Overall, this has been Rei’s arc throughout the story: trying to balance what she must do against what she wants. That discrepancy isn’t resolved so much. Rather, she comes to terms with the notion that she has taken on responsibility, and she always had a choice in doing so. She is reclaiming her ability to affect change on the world, shedding her previous helplessness. And yes, that does require some sacrifice, but the benefits are worth it. That sacrifice isn’t totally a cost.
Anyway, unless something changes, there should only be two chapters left. The end is near.