"Come, brothers and sisters, and bask in Lilith's love."
The speaker was a woman, hooded in gray robes, who carried a small, terracotta bowl. A single red candle floated within, and dozens more lit up the room with irregular, twinkling light. Two great windows from floor to ceiling spanned the wall by the door, showing a view of an empty city street at night. Posters for DVD releases lined the walls, but they were torn, faded, or halfway taken down, and at the counter by the door, there was only a faded outline where a cash register had been. There were no shelves full of videos to rent in that place—not any longer. In that abandoned rental store, adherents to the Cult of Lilith met to hear the great news of her wonders, and it was their Archon who delivered this message for all to hear.
"She has sacrificed Her physical body, Her existence, so that we may walk as human beings once again," said the Archon. "Every day, She speaks to the lost souls in the ocean to remind them what they can accomplish as individuals. We've all heard Her voice, or else we wouldn't be here, and that's why we gather today—to rejoice and celebrate and spread the word."
The Archon pursed her lips and went silent for a moment, and her followers nodded their heads slowly. On firm cushions, eight rows of ten men and women kneeled before the Archon in deference to her knowledge, wisdom, and experience, and she wouldn't make them wait long to hear her guidance.
"Now, more than one person has approached me over the last few weeks," said the Archon, "asking me why Lilith would permit Eisheth to exist and if we have something to fear from Eisheth's coming. I admit, I've wondered the same thing, but I've thought very carefully on the matter. I've talked to the other Archons and studied what Lilith had to say to all of us after the attack, and let me share with you my belief. I don't think anyone should worry or think that Lilith has abandoned us. Why would She appear to us in warning if She cared nothing more for us? I believe Lilith won't interfere in the free will of men. She has done everything she could to undo the damage She herself had a part in, but the rest is up to us. It is our imperative to live good lives, to prove that we're capable of overcoming the flaws that brought forth Third Impact in the first place.
"But, if you've been paying attention, you might realize that that answer has nothing to do with the other question—why does Lilith permit Eisheth to exist? To that, I can only say I don't believe Lilith is all-powerful. She was and is a person as we are, and she must have limits to her abilities. Some of you might think that saddening, but I don't. I wouldn't want to pin my hopes on a being without limits. How could I hope to understand Her that way? How could I believe She thinks the way we do? Yes, it means Lilith can make mistakes, but it also means that She understands who we are in a way that a truly omnipotent and omnipresent being never could. That, I think, is a comfort beyond words."
The cultists bowed their heads once more.
"Now, let us think on our friends and loved ones who are still in the sea," said the Archon. "I'm sure Lilith will take your thoughts to them. Masuyo will come around and take any messages you have for them—they could be to family or to someone you've never known."
One of the Archon's helpers, a high-school-aged girl with blonde locks, passed around cards for the other cultists to write on. Each was then folded once and handed back down the rows, where Masuyo picked them up. From there, the Archon invited other cultists to come forward and tell stories of how Lilith came to them in the sea—what form she took to reach them, how her message impacted their lives and continued to do so, for that was the goal of these meetings: to encourage people to speak and share their hopes with one another.
Still, the Cult of Lilith was far from an organized religion, and the weekly meetings were purposefully kept restrained—an hour and a half long at most. When no one else wished to speak, the Archon closed the meeting with kind words for all.
"Thank you all for coming to help spread the word of Lilith's continued life and message," she said. "Let me just remind everyone that this weekend, there's will be a charity marathon held between here and Chino to help raise money for victims of Eisheth's attack. You can run in the race or volunteer. If you have any questions, you can talk to Ami outside. She'll have flyers and other information for you."
A blonde woman with a long ponytail raised her hand with a bundle of flyers for everyone to see. "Oh, and please, please, please, if you plan on coming, we could really use some umbrellas," said Ami. "Archon Juniper and I have about six between us, but there's rain in the forecast, and we don't want anyone getting soaked, so if you can donate some money or loan us an umbrella to share for the weekend, even if you're not coming, we'd be very grateful! More information outside, once again!"
As the cultists dispersed—some congregating around Ami outside the window, others leaving in groups to head to the nearest bus or train station—Archon Juniper took to extinguishing the candles, putting the wooden podium she'd spoken at away, and securing the locks on their improvised meeting site. She went through the storage room and out the back door, but on her way through the building's back alley to the street, a boy emerged from the shadows, wearing sunglasses and hooded sweatshirt. Only one boy she knew went to such lengths to hide his features.
"Hello, Archon Juniper," he said. "How was the service?"
"Fine, thank you," said the Archon, smiling, "but you really don't need to call me that. What brings you here, Shinji-kun? Are you considering joining us after all?"
"I really couldn't imagine worshiping Ayanami," he said, "and I'm afraid that's not why I'm here. Misato-san and I—and Ayanami, too—we need your help."
"With Eva?" The Archon turned away. "I don't do that kind of work anymore. We did awful, awful things to you, Shinji-kun—to you and Rei and Asuka. I'd rather not be a part of that again."
"I wouldn't ask that of you," said Shinji, "but you can help us in other ways. Trust me. I've listened to your sermons. I know you believe people can find something good in this world. That's what we're fighting for. Please."
The Archon pursed her lips, and with a steady hand she lowered her hood, revealing her short, brown hair and smooth, fair complexion. She met Shinji's eyes and hesitated before speaking.
"What do you need me to do?" asked Maya.