Author's note: Hello Everyone! I'm back! Firstly, I'm sorry for the wait. I decided to hold off on writing this chapter and uploading it for two reasons. I know quite a few of you only stick to the anime so I held off to not spoil season 2 for you. I also wanted to get a better idea on how things looked setting wise. Plus of course the usual occurrences in life like work and such.
This chapter lays the groundwork for what's to come! It's made to make you formulate questions XD You are going to learn quite a bit. You also get to meet two special titans in this one (you guys may know who) PLEASE NOTE: I have changed these titans names so to not confuse you with how things are in cannon. Remember, there are no such things as titan shifters in this AU and I did this not to confuse anyone. ALSO NOTE: THIS CHAPTER HAS SOME GORE - like some of the previous chapters. But what's snk without gore?
Also, you are going to get some POV's from Mike and Sasha. ALSO NOTE, before you read this chapter, it might be wise to familiarize yourself with the Attack on Titan spinoff manga "Before the Fall" I reference it quite a bit in this chapter so it would help to know the characters at least. I've dropped many hints about Rogue's past in this one!
IF YOU SPOT ANY ERRORS, PLEASE PM THEM TO ME SO I CAN MAKE CORRECTIONS!
Unraveling the Thread
There was a rapid thumping against his chest, his heart was practically pounding against his ribs like an animal trapped in a cage. His muscles were tense, every strand seemingly quivering. His spine was experiencing a constant chill. The beast's fists were curling and unfurling in his lap as he sat and waited – nerves horrid. His worried greens observed as soldiers, his family, rushed about the grounds gathering supplies – the sounds of concerned phrases, shaky words of fear, and the grunts and whinnies of horses being hauled from their stalls. He watched as blades were dropped haphazardly while men with trembling hands placed them onto wagons. The sun was shining, the temperature warm, and the recipe for a good looking day if not for the foul ingredient that had been thrown in.
Rogue was in a state of disbelief.
It seemed like only yesterday that he had defeated and devoured The Female Titan – a creature with an agenda. Now, there was another threat. More titans. In particular, The Armored One that he had seen breach Trost. Was it true? By the way his senses were overreacting it had to be. But was it really THE Armored Titan? Could the Garrison have made a mistake? Rogue shook his head. Who was he kidding? Of course it was true. It was always said that the words of the Garrison messengers were exact.
And so he sat in the front of the castle, waiting as they prepared to go into battle again. Rogue reached up, hand pulling at his leather collar. He felt almost numb and the world seemed to be in a dense fog. He didn't know what was going on nor what was planned. The Commander was bound to be out soon to issue his orders. More than anything though, he feared for his little ones and what their assignment could be. Armin and Mikasa – they had nearly been killed by The Female. The Armored One, he would surely be a much more unforgiving foe.
He wouldn't be able to live with himself if something were to happen to his babies.
"I know you don't like it much my little titan but this time, you need to wear your collar."
Hearing the familiar voice, Rogue snapped out of his current state of mind and peered down to see Hange along with his little ones, the scientist looking more serious than anything and the two teens wearing a metaphorical mask to hide their nerves.
"It's essential that you wear it Rogue." Hange proceeded as she and his little ones made sure their straps were buckled. "It has sheets of iron bamboo steel on the back of it as you know. If you were to encounter The Armored Titan, you would need the extra protection."
Rogue blinked, his head hanging in the slightest and his hand lowering. "EII NOO." He replied, trying to figure out what to say next, his eyes drifting to his little ones. Suddenly feeling the need to comfort, he awkwardly lowered himself and nuzzled into them – emitting an almost pitiful purr. For a moment, the two teens seemed stunned until Armin and Mikasa hugged his skin in return – the dark-haired girl reaching to stroke his nose as she always did.
"It's okay, bud." Armin began, his voice revealing that he was obviously uncertain and likely going to lie. "Mikasa and I will be alright. You just need to focus on what Erwin orders you to do."
"Yes Rogue. You don't need to worry. Armin and I plus the rest of the recruits have trained hard with you over the past two months. Our skills of evading and perusing have improved because of you. Please… just focus alright."
Rogue's ears lowered as he sat up again, whining in the slightest. He was still uneasy. "ROMMISE YUU BEE SAFF. DOONT… PUT SELVVES ENN HARRNSS WAEE TO HELLP NEE." He put forth, giving in to a weak smile. "DAT NYYY JOOB."
At his words, the two dawned looks of sympathy. "Let's – just focus on both our orders and assignments all right?" Armin replied, his voice oddly quiet.
Rogue could only reply with a grunt, watching as many of the Scouts began to gather and wait afore the castle. He didn't really know what to make of his little ones' words. Although, it sounded as if the worst happened they would defy his wishes to keep him safe no matter what. Rogue's brow creased at the thought. He wouldn't let it get to that no matter what.
Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, he rotated his head to see his superiors emerge from the castle. Erwin, Levi, and Mike made their way through the uneasy soldiers. They were fully suited and appeared just as stoic as usual. Erwin's face was formed in a look of utter seriousness – perhaps an ounce of urgency. The man's thick eyebrows pinched together and the tips of his mouth drooped into a slight frown – a look of displeasure. Levi nearly appeared the same as always with his signature look – the small male seemingly more constipated and irritated as usual. Mike just looked as equally repulsed just like the others – a contrast from his normal mellow appearance. Truthfully, he wasn't too familiar with Mike as he was with his other two superiors. Rogue only knew the man to be of little words with a nose like a hound. Mike was very loyal though. His skill, from what he had seen during his time back in Maria, Mike's talent was second to the famed Corporal. The titan observed as Erwin quickly scaled a crate that was still waiting its turn to be loaded with his two officers standing next to him, straight and staring ahead at no fixed point in particular. For a moment, Rogue watched the Commander continue to survey the scene before him – the titan swallowing back the lump in his throat. Erwin could order anything. He had seen the man being relentless with his instruction on rare and dire situations before and he could likely take the risky route again.
The tall blonde's hard blues blinked, as if he were examining the circumference to ensure that the entire legion was present. After looking, without even skipping a beat, Erwin cleared his throat, his breath gruff and giving away at just how angry he was with the situation. "ATTENTION SCOUTS!" Erwin's imperious voice boomed – instantly grabbing every pair of eyes and ears. "THESE ARE YOU ORDERS AS WELL AS INTELLIGENCE ABOUT THE CURRENT SITUATION I MUST SHARE WITH YOU. APPROXIMATELY FIVE HOURS AGO, THE ARMORED TITAN BROKE THROUGH WALL ROSE IN AN AREA SOUTHEAST OF HERE. THE GARRISON HAS TAKEN THE NECESSARY PRECAUTIONS OF KEEPING TITANS OUT. HOWEVER, AS YOU CAN IMAGINE, SOME HAVE GOTTEN IN – HEADING STRAIGHT FOR RAGAKO." The commander spoke without missing a beat. "WE HAVE TWO JOBS FOR THIS MISSION. WARN AND EVACUATE CITIZENS AND SEAL THE BREACH. LISTEN CAREFULLY TO THESE INSTRUCTIONS. YOU ARE TO AVOID CONFRONTATION WITH TITANS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE." The man put forth, igniting several faces to drop and Rogue's heart to skip a beat. "THIS IS DUE TO THE FACT THAT OUR SHIPMENT OF SUPPLIES, INCLUDING BLADES AND GAS, WASN'T DUE TO ARRIVE UNTIL TWO DAYS FROM NOW. NEEDLESS TO SAY, THIS IS A DIRE ISSUE AND WE CANNOT WAIT. THIS ISN'T IDEAL, BUT YOU MUST CONSERVE YOUR RESOURCES." Erwin paused, letting the information sink in, soldiers now looking more horrified than ever. Inwardly, Rogue panicked. His little ones wouldn't have much to use to defend themselves. If they were caught in a dangerous situation; they could be in serious trouble if they were not with him. "A TOTAL OF THREE TEAMS OF NINE WILL SPREAD ACROSS THE DISTRICT, GIVING THE WORD TO EVACUATE TO SINA'S INTERIOR BEFORE RETURNING TO EHRMICH DISTRICT. EACH TEAM WILL BE LEAD BY A VETERAN, TWO SECTION COMMANDERS, AND HOLD SEVERAL EXPERIENCED SOLDIERS. THE OTHER TEAM THAT WILL CONSIST OF HANGE, LEVI, AND I WILL BE TAKING ROGUE TO EHRMICH DISTRICT TO GATHER SUPPLIES BEFORE HEADING TO THE BREACH. WE WILL BE ACCOMPANIED BY MANY SOLDIERS TO ASSIST IN SUPPLY TRANSPORT. ONCE THE BREACH IS SEALED IN THE MORNING, IF NEEDED WE WILL GO TO CHECK OTHER SAFE POINTS FOR THOSE THAT MAY NEED TO TAKE REFUGE. REMEMBER YOUR SIGNALS AND OTHER SAFE PLACES IF PLANS NEED TO CHANGE. ALSO, IF YOU ENCOUNTER THE ARMORED TITAN – ONLY THE EXPERIENCED WILL HANDLE HIM. ROGUE IS ONLY TO BE USED AS A LAST RESORT. KEEP IN MIND, WE DO NOT NEED TO FORGET ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF THE FEMALE'S POSSIBLE CONNECTION TO THE ARMORED. WE CANNOT RULE OUT THE IDEA OF THE COLOSSAL SHOWING UP AS IDEA IS STILL ON THE TABLE." Erwin spoke seriously, heavy words weighing down upon his audience. Rogue felt a lump form in his throat. "STAND BY FOR YOUR ASSIGNED TEAMS." Erwin proceeded as he took a piece of parchment from Levi and began to read through the list of names.
Rogue's mind was swimming with thoughts again as he nervously listened to the Commander's sorting. He himself was to go to the city nearest the breach – having no idea where his little ones were to be placed. Surely Erwin wouldn't separate them! Surely not! Rogue continued to listen to the list of names, making note that the Commander had not yet announced those of his little ones. Perhaps the man really was pairing them together for safety reasons or he knew the fact that he himself did not like Armin and Mikasa, his lovely babies, to be without him on dangerous missions like this one let alone any in general.
"THE LAST TEAM WILL BE LEAD BY MIKE, NANABA, AND GELGAR. MEMBERS WILL CONSIST OF CONNIE, SASHA, KRISTA, JEAN, LYNN, ARMIN, AND MIKASA."
The titan's blood ran cold as he heard it. His little ones were not with him. Not at all. The decision instantly angered him – face flushing red. Rogue's ears pressed themselves into his wild locks, eyes gaining a dangerous glint. How could Erwin make such a choice! How! Suddenly, the titan hissed loudly to project his displeasure at the man, unable to hold back a natural reaction. The vocal had instantly gathered everyone, including the Commander's undivided attention. It was silent except for his coarse breathing – the others simply stunned. Eyes were shrunk down to pinpricks and the Corporal's face was twisted up in a look of absolute repulsion. Still, Rogue found himself too caught up in his own worries and desires. "ITTLE ONNES NEEED TOOO BEE WITTT NEE!" He demanded. "ETT NOOT SAFFE!" Green eyes glanced to the other new recruits of his squad, deciding that they shouldn't be without him either. "ALL SNALLL ONNS WITT NEE!" Rogue demanded further, planting his index finger into the cobblestone beneath him to further imply his point before naturally shifting his weight to hover protectively over his own babies and as much of the teenage Scouts as he could. Rogue prepared to give a low but feeble growl, but seeing the Commander's hard gaze at him made him sit up at his error. The titan practically paled as the man's thick brows bunched together – the beast completely mortified.
"Rogue." Erwin began, his tone hard and sounding much more stern than usual. "Those are my orders. In the rescue and evacuation portion of this plan, we need as many able bodied soldiers as we can and as many tactical people as possible. They are needed else ware."
Rogue blinked in disbelief. He had just spoken against Erwin's words! If that was one thing no one was to ever do it was talk harshly to your superiors. How could he let him lose himself! He didn't mean for such a response to happen! It practically slipped out of him. A mixture of terror and shame swam within his greens as his ears wilted. His heart was pounding again at the very thought of his outburst – he could barely look up at Erwin. He could practically feel the man's as well as the Corporal's stare burning into him. Rogue's gaze only fell to his feet. All he could do was give one sharp nod in apology, hair bouncing around his face. Feeling both completely stupid in light of his error and utterly horrified at the fact that his little ones and delicate family were being sent out performing the riskiest part of the plan, he only sat and listened to the Commander continue his speech.
"REMEMBER YOUR QUANTITY OF SUPPLIES AND YOUR SIGNAL FLARES. EACH GROUP HAS AN ACOUSTIC ROUND FOR ADDED MEASURES OF WARDING OFF ANY TITANS. THE EVACUATION UNITS HEAD OUT IN TEN MINUTES AT MY COMMAND. THOSE WITH THE SUPPLY CONVOY WILL DEPART IN TWENTY." The blonde concluded as he stepped down from his perch and began to follow Mike to examine the wagons.
"Rogue, why did you do that?"
Upon hearing the query, the beast cringed and lifted his head to look at a rather concerned Armin and Mikasa. He found himself looking at the many different cobblestones again. "EIII… DIDDN NEEN ITT." Rogue tried to explain. "EII… COUUD NOOT ELLP ITT." The fretful titan continued further, his fingers snaking between his toes out of habit. "ETT… SLIIT OUUT."
It was quiet between the three, the titan noticing that Hange was listening and watching closely. "Rogue," Mikasa started, her voice breaking the tension. "We know you are nervous about us being part of the other group. We understand you are scared. But please, have faith in us all right? Besides, if it makes you feel any better, we are being led by some of the strongest and most experienced Scouts we have."
His head lifted a little at her statement. That much was true. Mike, Nanaba, and Gelgar were seasoned Scouts and he had seen them in action numerous times. They had bested the leftover titans from Trost and survived the wrath of The Female Titan. It was possible they could handle The Armored Titan, ward him off if need be. The fact that they were strong soldiers eased his nerves a bit – but only in the slightest. He couldn't help but feel apprehensive.
"I know you are a beast you big brat, but that doesn't give you the excuse to act like an animal."
The titan's spine instantly shivered at the familiar scolding. Rogue lifted his head to see Levi now standing next to his little ones with his arms neatly folded across his chest and looking even more aggravated than before. "EVVI… EII –
"I try to avoid calling you a beast Rogue, but that was downright uncalled for. Care to explain what the hell that was?"
Just as he opened his lipless maw to apologize again and try to explain himself further, Hange stepped forward with a hand held to the Corporal, looking the complete opposite of her usual self.
"Easy Levi. I don't believe he could help it. Rogue's parental instincts flared up that's all it was. He meant no disrespect. He's just – really nervous Levi. Rogue's scared like the rest of us. Also, you know how his new traits have been surfacing lately as well." Hange implied, ending on a note that left room for question. The man let out a long sigh, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose.
"I know that." He sighed. "I understand and I can guess what's going through that big head of yours, brat. However, you need to focus on the mission ahead. We can't have you in the fog. I'm sure you remember the beginning of the fifty-seventh expedition when you worried about Ackerman and Arlert too much. We lost a few lives because you were too apprehensive. Even though every one of us is scared shitless deep down, we bury those fears to get the job done. You just need to focus on getting the breach sealed. The faster you do that, the faster we get to head out and unite with your little ones. Of course, that means you can't do a half-ass job of it."
Rogue felt himself loosen a little bit at the man's advice and speech. Levi did have a point. The quicker he could get things done, the quicker he could see his babies again.
"In addition, you have both Mike and Nanaba in charge of them. Mike is one of the most gifted soldiers the Scouts has ever had. His skill alone is a force to be reckoned with."
Rogue nodded in agreement. Indeed, Mike was talented. So much so that when they initiated capture exercises, Mike was usually one of the toughest individuals to trap. Another intelligent titan would have a hard time with him.
"You see Rogue? No need to worry!" Armin beamed feebly. "We'll see one another again."
The titan's shoulders slacked, the beast coming out of his hunched over position. Yes, those were valid points. His little ones had a chance. Besides, Mike's nose could smell titans from a mile away. He could quickly alert them if there was danger and his little ones could hastily be taken to a safe place. "OKKAE." He nodded. "EIIII TRUUST ERRVINN'S CISIION." Rogue expressed. "EII… NEEED TOOO TELLL ERRVIN ORRY –
"You can tell him on the way or when we arrive in Ehrmich district." Levi sighed. "He's currently preoccupied. Use this time to prepare if you know what I mean Rogue." Levi put simply as he walked off to chide at other soldiers to hurry.
For a moment, Rogue found himself watching the man before droning quietly as he turned to look upon his little ones. Instinctively, he lowered his frame to nuzzle into their small bodies again, emitting a soft purr before letting his tongue slither from his mouth to gently lap at their faces – showing both affection and concern. Rogue then lifted his gaze in the slightest, staring into his babies' eyes with remorse. Even though he had been reassured, he still didn't like the situation one bit. He just had a sinking feeling in his gut no matter how much he was told not to worry. "YUUU BEE SAFFF." Rogue muttered, almost feeling guilty that they were having to go through such again. "BEE AVVARRE." The titan tried to explain, using hand gestures to describe surroundings. "ONNLLE… IGGHT IFFF YUU NUSST."
Armin smiled, patting the tip of his nose. "Yes bud, Mikasa and I will be careful."
"Of course, you need to be careful too, Rogue." Mikasa beamed softly. "Don't do anything too rash."
He huffed at her concern, pressing his brow to hers in appreciation. Rogue knew better though. If it came down to it, he would have to fight.
"Oh boy, I see Momma Rogue is coming out again!" Hange humored as she hurriedly walked by with the last of the gas canisters beneath her arms. "You two Titan Children might want to get to your horses! Erwin is going to sound the word anytime now!"
"Yes, Sir." The two replied abet unenthusiastic, turning to the titan once again to pat his nose. "See you in the morning Rogue."
"Love you big brother."
"LUVV YUU." The titan uttered, watching his little ones mount their equines after double checking their supplies again. Rogue remained quiet, simply looking at them and the new recruits of the Levi squad. Now ready to depart, he could now see the fear laden on their faces. Their pupils were shrunk, knuckles practically white, and they looked frozen and stiff. Connie in particular looked absolutely confounded. The young man's eyes were as wide as possible and the blood seemed to have drained completely out of him by just how pale the teen was in appearance. Instinct told the titan that something was amiss with the young man besides overwhelming nerves. However, just as he decided to address Connie to question what was wrong, the Commander's booming voice echoed throughout the area.
"EVACUATION UNITS NOW PROCEED! GOOD LUCK!"
With noble but shaky salutes, the soldiers of the first unit charged fourth. The stampede of mares and stallions leaving behind dust among the cobblestone path. Rogue watched his precious babies look over their shoulders, giving him one last glance before rounding the bend and escaping his sight entirely. For a long moment the rest of the chaotic world was nothing but a blur to him. Rogue kept to himself as the other soldiers began to finish up their loading and hooking up their steeds or placing saddles. It didn't matter how many pep talks could have been given to him, he still didn't agree with the way things were ordered completely. Deep down, he was still terrified for his little ones. He just felt so uneasy about the entire ordeal. Rogue's eyes drifted to the nearly empty supply wagons – watching them line up. The beast's brow wrinkled in the slightest in thought. He didn't get it. Why was Erwin doing such preparations? It had to be one of the man's calculative practices yet again. Surely it was. The Commander had something in mind that he hadn't caught onto yet and was slow to understand. The titan knew he would find out sooner or later.
Oblivious to the minutes that had ticked by, Rogue's attention was stolen away momentarily by Erwin's commands – the battalion rolling out. Swallowing the wad that had nestled within his throat, Rogue slowly stood and began to trail the unit, keeping himself as quiet as possible as if to not alert any hidden enemies early on. Oh how he hoped that he wouldn't run into the Armored Titan, The Colossal, or anything else for that matter. Still, he couldn't help but wonder. Why were the walls being attacked again? More importantly, was it possible that this was some elaborate scheme? Was SHE involved?
The titan's hand went to his brow, trying to find solace for the moment. His thoughts were swarming in far too many directions. Every fragment was mixing up as if they were individual ingredients cooking in a stew. There was no time to dwell upon possibilities. None, He would have to figure things out later while trying to sort out the reasoning by the way the very mission at hand was being organized.
The day was growing to be more rotten by the minute. Oh how he prayed that it wouldn't get worse. But knowing his luck, he knew that life was not always kind to him.
He could feel the heaving of his horse's sides beneath him, hearing its rough breath as it galloped with the others. Armin's hands were still shaking even as he held the reins. Since the announcement of the breach, they had never stopped trembling – his entire frame was coursing with shutters. He simply couldn't believe it. The Armored Titan had crawled out of hell yet again to wreak havoc and The Colossal was possibly looming somewhere ready to advance. Armin dipped his chin, his golden locks swarming and whipping around his head in the wind. His mind was only conjuring up one reason and it was clear that the Commander was fully aware of it. Erwin had probably been suspecting it since the news of the breach came to them. The enemy was certainly or definitely seemed to be planning something. It was very likely that they were here for the very same reason The Female was. Rogue. Or rather they were after Rogue's status. Of course, that was his first thought. There were other ideas teeming in his head – the very same that the Commander had conjured. If this was a planned attack, then the possibility that the two enemy titans were indeed working with The Female would be correct. Could Rogue really have some sort of alpha status among all titans in the region? The more he thought about it, the more it didn't seem to make sense. Both the Armored and Colossal attacked during the first breach. The Armored broke the wall barricading Trost but quickly left the scene. Titans were purposely led in.
Armin sat straighter in his saddle as he thought further, his mind turning like cogs in a well-oiled machine and going in many different directions. Was it possible that there was much more to Rogue's talent? Going by The Female's words, the idea was looking to be more of a fact. He though harder. 'Rogue's scream that Mikasa and Levi witnessed in the forest – he was commanding titans, but was he actually commanding or – wait. Rogue hasn't had any recollection of –
Mikasa's voice shook him from his stupor, the blonde teen rotating his head to meet her gaze. Amazingly, she still retained her stoic façade, an almost unamused expression that masked the fact that she was alert and aware of her surroundings. Even though Rogue could read the girl's body language with the skill that he could read a novel, Armin could tell by the way that Mikasa was gripping the edge of her scarf that she was just as tense as the rest of their squad. He silently wondered if she was contemplating the same things as him. "I'm alright Mikasa. I was just thinking." He dithered. "Of course, I'm edgy too."
Mikasa ceased to reply, for several minutes, it was only silence between the group. Cerulean blues drifted around the landscape that raced past. It had been several hours since they had left Katness district and had been riding through the countryside. There were only patches of small forests here and there and a few trading posts along with farm houses. Small villages were few and far between. Normally, it would have been a lovely place to just kick back in the field and do nothing but watch clouds and relax. At the present time however, it was the least ideal battlefield possible. If they were ambushed by titans, they would have little places for their grappling hooks to embed themselves into not to mention no areas to take cover if needed. Although they trained with Rogue, he still wasn't as proficient as Mikasa or a veteran in the specific area of skill. The odds were certainly against them.
Why was hell knocking on their door again?
"Yeah," Jean began, breaking the silence. "I can't believe this is happening. We just dealt with The Female not long ago! From what I understand, Stohess is still recovering." The teen paused, Armin watching as Jean gritted his teeth. "We certainly didn't need more of this shit to happen."
"Yeah, I agree with you." Gelgar spoke over his shoulder. "This is the one thing we didn't need. Worst timing as well."
Armin only nodded in compliance to the man. Gelgar was someone who he didn't really speak to often in comparison to the other veterans. He reminded him of a member of the Garrison, simply for the fact that Gelgar fancied alcohol of any kind and would drink any chance he got and during any special occasion. It was a common thing to hear stories from Nanaba, Lynn, and many others of Gelgar being hungover. For Armin, he had only seen the man drunk twice – during a birthday dinner for Hange and the man wasn't even close to being sloppy drunk as they often called it. Gelgar was more of the 'talkative drunk' type. During the dinner, the man had literally talked about the weather for over an hour. Of course, Gelgar was the first truly drunk person that Rogue had witnessed and he and Mikasa had to do quite a lot of explaining to the baffled titan. Not soon after that the answer to a question formed during a celebration was realized. It was Gelgar who had brought the alcohol to the event – the man getting away with it due to their superiors being in Sina. Most of the recruits had taken part including himself. Armin couldn't honestly remember whose idea it was to 'see if the titan could get drunk' but he certainly remembered the result. Rogue definitely was the sloppy drunk, talkative drunk, and funny drunk all rolled into one after they dared him to consume an entire storage barrel of cheap booze. Thankfully, Rogue remembered almost nothing of the event, but the titan and Gelgar faced the Corporal's wrath the following morning. Aside from the love of alcohol, Gelgar was skilled as a soldier and Erwin often let him command small squads. This was the first he had been paired with the man, and it was very clear to them all that Gelgar was completely and utterly sobered up.
"I think all of us agree with Jean here." Armin heard Lynn begin with Henning gesturing his agreement. The blonde teen didn't know much about the two since they were often with other squads even during training sessions. They did seem to be some sort of couple though for the pair always appeared to be together.
"I think it would be best if we limited the chit chat." Nanaba passed over her shoulder as they rounded a curb on the abandoned path, one that ran next to an old barn with swine still in their pins, a family scrambling to their horses at Henning's warning as they passed by. "You never know when they could be upon us. Be alert."
"Yes!" They retorted. Armin swallowed, eyes drifting around once again before catching Mike looking over his shoulder at them before transferring his gaze onto the other veterans. The man then stared ahead once again. Next, the experienced Section Commander cleared his throat.
"I might as well say it since I know each of you are thinking about it as well." He began with Armin and the others sitting straight in their saddles. "Erwin is acting on a hunch. He's been considering the facts ever since the news of the new breach and has made his plans accordingly. The Female Titan may not have been alone in the hunt for Rogue's status. You all should know this hypothesis that was drawn up long ago." Mike paused as if to allow his words to sink into the listeners of his speech. "Every bit of this is just speculation. We could also be wrong entirely and the enemy could simply be looking to perform an extermination. After all, Rogue has stated that he's seen the Armored before yet the enemy took no interest in him."
Armin blinked at the man's statement. A simple extermination. In all honesty, he secretly prayed for such a theory to be true. The Armored and Colossal didn't seem to take any interest in Rogue. Not to mention, Rogue had no memories resurfacing of them even after he had seen the two titans. It was the best bad case scenario. He relaxed in the slightest, but still – Rogue was a mystery even after years of knowing him and the Scouts had been wrong before such as with The Female Titan's intentions. The teen thought harder, nose wrinkling in the slightest as he watched his horse's mane tangle and thrash. Erwin was still holding on to their original theory with a vice grip. Perhaps it was due to the influence of another experienced and higher power believing that the titan enemy's actions were much more thought out for a purpose other than bloodshed. Zackley or Pixis were likely candidates.
Hell, for all he knew Rogue could be some sort of titan king and the others just wanted to overthrow the crown. How he hoped for such not to be true.
"So," Mike continued. "Which of you know this area?" The man queried, starting a new topic. Sasha quickly raised her hand as if she were a child in class.
"I do sir! My village is not far from here. In fact, Connie is from –
However, Sasha paused in her answer – breath caught in her throat with her gaze set onto the teen who had all but been completely silent after they departed – which Connie being quiet for long periods was completely unheard of. Armin swallowed fretfully. His friend looked frozen, terror plastered on his face. Connie's teeth were clenched and the teen appeared to be barely breathing. In fact, the shaven boy was shivering like he had been out in a cold rain for hours. Armin looked harder, Connie's pupils were shrunk, gaze forward and eyes appearing as if they had never blinked in the past hour. The young man was as white as a corpse. He had never seen his friend like this. Ever. Not even during the events of Trost.
"Connie?" Armin asked, his voice coming out much softer than he anticipated. The terrified teen only stared forward for what seemed like an eternity until his Adam's Apple bobbed.
"My… my village." Connie stuttered. "My village… is Ragako." He swallowed roughly, completely petrified. "It was where - the titans were headed… hours ago." Connie's body shook harder. "My… my family. My… family lives there."
The world seemed to stop at the teen's words. Armin felt his stomach drop. How could he have forgotten? He had always heard Connie talk about being from Ragako. He recalled the teen also had a younger brother and sister but their names had escaped him. No wonder his friend was paralyzed with trepidation.
Mike's eyes widened at the recruit's announcement – a stark contrast from his common mellow look. "Alright. These are your orders! We are nearly an hour away from Ragako. There is a chance that any Garrison soldiers stationed close by could have given them the warning to evacuate. But that chance is slim. Nanaba and Gelgar, you take Springer, Ackerman, Arlert, and Kirstein. You go to Ragako to assess the situation and do whatever you can to help there. Myself, Blouse, Lynn, and Henning will branch off –
However, the man stopped himself, his head lifting suddenly like a doe in an open field. Armin observed, his heart beating faster as the man's nostrils flared at every inhale and exhale he took. Mike's gaze then narrowed, head turning to the right. Crows flew from the tops of pines from the nearby thicket. Even on his horse, Armin could feel the earth vibrate beneath him. It was an all too familiar sensation that announced the fact that titans were coming.
Several of them.
"There are titans approaching from at least a two hundred meters!" The man announced hastily as the group watched a total of ten titans lumber out of the thicket – their sizes ranging from two to thirteen meters. Thankfully, none of them were the Armored, but then again any regular titan was something to dread. "Prepare to –
However, before Mike could give another order, the group of titans did something that Armin had never heard of or had seen before.
The blonde's eyes widened at the spectacle. Each and every titan just stood, completely unmoving and gazes locked onto them. No vast lungs expanded, no nostrils flared, no large muscle twitched. They were completely silent. A shiver ran down his spine, heart pounding against his ribs. What were they doing? Sure, he had seen mindless titans do strange things and heard stories about what abnormals would do on expeditions from the older Scouts, but he had never heard of anything like what was before him.
"What the hell are they doing?" Gelgar uttered, knuckles clearly white.
"Are they actually – watching us?"
Then the unexpected happened. One of the larger titans abruptly leaned forward and jumped – twisting in the air before landing back down with the ground shuttering like their bones. The monster then charged forward, running at them awkwardly but at full tilt. At this however, the other nine titans took off in a complete sprint – each and every one of them heading right for them. Everything around them trembled, just like an earthquake. Armin's breath hitched in his chest, his heart finally faltering.
"What the hell!"
"The hell are they –
"Are they all abnormals!" Henning questioned above the relentless pounding against the earth. Armin's jaw went slack at this. Aside from the intelligent titans like Rogue, The Female, and the other skinless beasts – abnormals were an absolute nightmare to go up against for their completely erratic and unpredictable behavior. Afore them though, were TEN abnormals that were hurriedly heading right for them with eyes infected with nothing but hunger. The teen's blood drained from his face, the odds of survival hitting him like Rogue's fist against a titan's skull.
Instinctively, he and the rest of their squad cracked their reins to propel their horses faster.
"SLIGHT CHANGE OF PLANS!" Mike ushered loudly. "LYNN AND HENNING GO WITH BLOUSE TO HER VILLAGE AND THOSE SURROUNDING IT. I'M BRANCHING OFF TO BUY US SOME TIME! IF YOU ARE ABLE, I'LL REUNITE WITH YOU IN THE MORNING WHEN WE MEET AT EHRMICH! IF YOU ARE TOO LOW ON SUPPLIES TO MAKE IT, GO WITH PLAN B! GOOD LUCK!" The man quickly concluded as he steered his horse away from them and into the fray.
It was simply silent at the Section Commander's desertion, each set of eyes wide as they watched Mike pull further and further away from them and into the depths of hell. Armin's body stiffened even more. This truly was one of the worst case scenarios.
"Please don't tell me he went off just to be the hero!" Jean panicked, succumbing to a bit of irrationality.
"No! He's being strategic!" Nanaba quickly defended. "We could be in serious turmoil if he hadn't broken off from us to distract and dispatch a few of them. He's saving us. Mike doesn't want us to use what little supplies we have just in case there is the need later." She turned to look upon them. "Remember, Mike's skill is second to Corporal Levi's. Making him one of the very best soldiers we have. Have faith in him."
"Yes, sir." Jean began, voice tainted with regret. "Sorry for my outburst."
No words were said as they continued to pull away and make their escape. Armin cautiously looked over his shoulder to see that the titans' attention seemed to have indeed shifted to Mike and away from their squad – the fact further implying that the man's actions were the right call. They still said nothing for several minutes until they were out of harm's way and came to a fork in the path – splitting into the two teams that Mike had requested at Nanaba's order. He secretly drifted into his mind again. The abnormals' behavior was baffling. They had all stopped at the same time. All at once and surged forward all at once. Like a pack. Like a team. Like a brigade. Armin felt sick to his stomach. Something was seriously amiss and he had a horrible feeling that things were about to get worse.
His face was stoic if one were around to look at it. His jaw was clenched, brows slightly pinched together at the hell that was quickly approaching – one that would never stop. Mike's heart beat just as quickly as his horse galloped – eyes locked onto the advancing titan horde. Inwardly, he was stricken with confusion. Sure, he was baffled by the sudden invasion of Wall Rose and the possibilities of what was happening – but even more so was what he was seeing at the very moment. He had been in the Scouts for years, his skill and knowledge having kept him alive. However, days in the field as well as his long since passed days as a cadet reading book after book could not have prepared him for the sight of a swarm of abnormal titans and their bizarre and unheard of action. Normally, abnormals charged forward straight for the highest concentration of human scent – their movements always awkward and much more erratic than a standard normal titan. It was true, Hange had noted that they could actually think in the slightest for just short bursts – something that had been determined through extensive observation and experiments. However, he had never seen or heard of abnormal titans doing everything in unison. Mike's brows narrowed further, strands of dusty blonde hair bouncing in the slightest. His fingers gripped the strip of worn leather making up his steed's reins – it was going to be challenging to successfully dispatch the hulking demons.
Mike whipped the reins, eyes studying his opponents with a practiced gaze. He would have to be quick. Taking them out while they were clustered was the best course of action. He didn't have to use as much blades or gas in such a manner as he did when engaged into a titanic stampede of behemoths. Just on the edge of the horizon, there was what looked to be a collection of older buildings –some with their purposes clear and others that he questioned. If needed, he would have to utilize the remains of the deserted village in order to navigate and gain leverage to execute the impending slaughter. He needed to perform his act of execution quickly. He would much rather unite with the others than stick around the village and wait till the cover of night. Mike studied his approach, his mind made up with the decision and conjuring a strategic plan of extracting the napes of the incoming abnormals. The man then clicked his tongue and clacked the rains, throwing his horse into a sprint. He would not get struck down – if he did it wasn't going to be without a fight.
With his first targets being the strange titan that had jumped before as well as a shorter abnormal, Mike angled his horse periodically, judging the distance before shooting the grapple into the titan's thigh and propelling himself off his saddle. The powerful thrust sent him speeding across the grassy earth, the heels of his boots digging into the dirt and organic blades like he was skiing down a snowy slope. His brows narrowed into an angry but determined glare as he pulled the triggers harder – sending him upward into the beginning of an arc – using the much larger titan as leverage. He had to be quick with his brutal work – abnormals and their unpredictable movements could easily kill him more swiftly than any run of the mill titan could. With his pairing blades poised to slice, Mike easily cut through the short titan's nape like butter. Nimble as he could be, he quickly shot another cable to the taller titan – hitting it in its shoulder. Before the beast could twist in an attempt to elude him, Mike rocketed upwards and made his way to the exposed nape – cutting it from the rest of the monster's body. As the towering beast fell, he quickly released another one of his gear's grapples into another towering titan and leaped into the fray yet again – cleanly cutting the nape away of another giant that he was passing by before plunging the unique swords into the nape of another behemoth, not even caring to relish in the sweet sound of a titan screaming in agony.
'Easy, nothing fancy. Just get the job done.'
Mike contemplated, turning again to search for the next titan to make his target. However, to his surprise, the beasts stopped again – only for them to spread themselves further apart from one another – every pair of lifeless and hungry eyes meeting upon him again. Quickly, as the titan started to dissolve, he launched himself at another member of the horde, twisting to gain momentum before plowing through another one of the creature's napes. Blood sprayed all over his garments, momentarily staining them red before the crimson evaporated into nothingness – hiding his good deed to humanity. Five down. Five to go. Seeing that the abnormals were much more scattered to properly slay in one swift move, Mike quickly called to his horse with a loud whistle. As he thought, his well-trained steed galloped through the steam and calamity in search of him. Experienced from the exercises with Rogue, Mike swooped from his toppling perch like a bird of prey, anchoring his cables into disintegrating corpses to steady himself as he made his balanced approach into his horse's saddle. Like he had been performing such a complex act since the day he came to the god forsaken earth, Mike planted himself firmly and perfectly into his saddle. The whiskered man focused yet again, keeping his senses alert and himself aware of the abnormal titans around him. Due to their current positions, he would have to wait until they came to the abandoned village so he could gain more traction within the current duel at hand.
He clacked the equine's reins once again, urging his horse onward towards the barren village. The earth vibrated beneath him again, his sharper than average senses telling him that one of the beasts was not far behind him – he could practically feel the heat radiate from its flesh, smell the stench of old carrion attached to the monstrosity. His mind was still struggling to understand what was occurring. The movements of the abnormals didn't make any sense, even more than usual. Why had they fanned out in the slightest after he had dispatched a cluster of them? It was almost as if they were actually continually thinking – the very idea of the possibility making the burly man shutter. Something simply wasn't right with any of the titans – something was amiss with the entire situation.
The advance of thundering footsteps kicked him back into reality. Mike gritted his teeth, his molars practically grinding against one another. It was right on his heels! If it decided to bend down and swipe – he would be done for! The man dug his boots into the stallion's sides, whipping the reins yet again, pushing his steed to the limit. Mike nearly breathed a sigh in relief as his horse's hooves met the old stone path, aged buildings rising around him. The village looked to be nothing out of the ordinary, just one that one would use as a pit stop on their way to their destination. The small shops were just the essentials: food, water, feed for animals, and a single outlet for garments – the place was probably home to really one or two actual residents. His heart nearly leaped from his chest as he heard a tremendous crash from where he had come from, rubble barely missing him but sending up a torrent of dust. Looking over his shoulder, he witnessed the titan that was pursuing him before try to wedge itself between two of the three story stone structures – he thing's bloated belly making it difficult for the ten-meter to get through, its grinning jaws dripping with saliva and pale eyes wide with a maddening hunger. The sturdy architecture stood no chance. He would have to execute it quickly. Mike turned his attention forward again, just in time to see a steeple of an old church as the titan managed to push through the buildings. The creature let out a garbled roar, the surrounding windows shuttering as Mike shot fourth his cables and prepared to make his move. His index fingers pulled the triggers, thumbs adjusting the angles to propel himself up the spire. With another squeeze of the triggers, Mike propelled himself in a wide arch around the steeple, curving and turning with what one could label as grace. The titan's attention was still trying to follow where he had begun his accent, displaying its lack of intelligence. The behemoth then caught Mike's movement, rotating its head to catch him in its voracious gaze. The beast however was too late as the seasoned Scout completed his arch around the spire, swords poised into position as he sped right for the nape. Blood met his hands and clothes yet again as the blades slashed through the hide and muscle, cutting the titan's weak point out in a large chunk that fell unceremoniously back to the earth. Mike then landed upon the highest roof before him, looking back to see the titan's lifeless body fall in a heap onto the nearby structures. Six down. Four to go.
Mike breathed in exasperation, lungs heaving as he tried to capture his breath. After he regained his composure, he turned to survey and check the positions of the other abnormals. As he did, his eyes met those of another massive titan – one with short hair, an almost gentle looking smile, and its arms wrapped around its rotund belly as if it were with child. However, Mike was thrown into a state of both confusion and alarm again. Like the titans before, it was simply standing still – barely breathing. All the creature did was stare at him. It made no move to advance. His eyes narrowed, pupils slowly drifting around the village to see his other targets – all of which were simply standing around to look upon him. They did absolutely nothing – the bloodthirsty beasts were reducing themselves to nothing but living statues. Mike's eyes scanned them once more, looking for any signs that they would spring forward again. An eight meter's nostrils flared, a medium sized titan's lip twitched, a slight ripple ran across the short haired titan's rounded belly. Upon hearing a slight rumble, Mike rotated his head to see one small titan still moving about in small circles before looking up at him upon his current perch and coming to the base of the building to scratch at the wall in a pathetic attempt to reach him. His eyes narrowed. The titan was a miserable looking creature. Its head was as big as the rest of its body, the eyes reminded him a bit of those of a bug – bulging to where they were nearly positioned upon the side of its head. The beast's lips were oversized, chapped and its teeth nearly hung out of its mouth. It was so horrid looking that it appeared almost comical – it and the short haired titan could almost be compared to caricatured figures in the tasteless news comics that he often saw in the Sina Times. Mike continued to assess it. There was no way it could get him from where he stood, so he began to plot his next move. 'The other bastards still haven't moved yet, and they seem perfectly content in staying put. The three meter below won't be much of an issue.' Mike thought, turning his attention to the sky – seeing that it was slowly inching past noon. 'I don't know why they are behaving the way they are, but I don't need to dwell on such a thing. It wouldn't be wise to stick around until nightfall, just in case they move again. I only have a single pair of gas tanks, and I used almost half of my fuel. If I killed these bastards, I would be using more and wouldn't likely have a single drop left for any titans I could encounter on the way to Ehrmich district. It's wiser to run. I have more of a chance in surviving –
However, the man's train of thought was abruptly cut as a strange scent swept into his nose, one that made him freeze and ignite with confusion. Mike's eyes narrowed, brows wrinkling. The scent clearly was one that he identified as the stench of a titan, but it was exotic. The aroma was even more bizarre than Rogue's natural musk. It smelled like - hair.
The earth then shook, the roof of the building trembling – the first vibration followed by another and another – heavy footsteps. Footsteps that clearly belonged to a very large titan. With his heart beginning to pound, Mike rotated his head to his left – only to see the most bizarre creature he had ever beheld.
He had never heard about any titan quite like the one that was before him.
The strange behemoth was absolutely massive, and to Mike it had little resemblance to a titan at all. Nearly sixty percent of its body was covered in shaggy and thick chocolate colored fur – only its somewhat of a potbellied stomach, its back, and face was barren of hair. The titan's arms were ridiculously long, hands going past its kneecaps. The head of the creature was certainly odd as well. Like Rogue, it possessed pointed ears – although slightly shorter. Its face looked like a hybridization of an ape and a human. Its eyes and nose were close to the appearance of a middle aged man's while its mouth looked like a primate's – the distance from the titan's nose longer, wide lips, and rows of canine like teeth peeking out of its slightly open jaw. Its hair upon its head was short, but blended into a long beard that grew from its chin and the little hair that was upon its back. It walked oddly, like its weight was too much for it – arms swinging with each hefty step. The creature was just wandering, eyes thankfully not set upon him yet.
It looked like a beast.
The sight of it made him set his decision into stone. Mike quickly stored his blades and whistled for his steed, watching as the horse came galloping across the field at his command. 'Yes. I'm not sticking around. That abnormal worries me. It's – gigantic, at least seventeen meters tall. I've never seen one of these bastards covered in fur before either. I've bought enough time for the others to safely escape. I'm getting the hell out –
Mike however couldn't finish his line of thought as the strange titan suddenly did something that he was not expecting whatsoever.
It quickly bent down and encased its massive hand around his equine.
The man's face fell in sheer shock and in absolute terror as he watched The Beast Titan squeeze the shrieking animal, its yellow eyes igniting in pleasure as blood decorated its hand, flesh giving way to protruding bones.
'IT WENT FOR THE HORSE! TITANS AREN'T SUPPOSED TO –
Mike had no time to react as The Beast Titan suddenly pulled its long arm back, muscles bulging noticeably in its chest before it threw the stallion in a perfect pitch – the force so powerful that the animals skin peeled like a potato as it came straight for him at a line drive. Mike barely had time to react, he shifted out of the way – but seconds too late. His dead horse hit the rooftop where he was previously standing, knocking him from his perch. The man tumbled, covering his face to avoid the debris as he fell from the rooftop.
His situation only got worse.
Mike opened his eyes to see the small large headed titan reach for him – its hands wrapping around his torso in a vice grip. Unable to pull out his blades to escape, the man only watched helplessly as the little beast opened its mouth and bit down upon his leg with incredible strength. Mike screamed, feeling his kneecap shatter and fibula snap along with every fiber of his muscles tearing. Blood spurted, soaking through his pant leg. It was absolute agony.
However, as he attempted to free himself, the small titan bit down once more, catching his leg again, the man screaming. This was it. He was going to die. He was done for.
At the deeply spoken word, the world seemed to grow silent. The wind barely blew, no birds chirped, and the small titan froze at the command. Mike's heart pounded in his chest, the voice was too rough and deep to belong to that of a man. The ground shifted beneath them, Mike turning his head to The Beast Titan, watching as it neatly knelt down and folded its hands into its lap. The creature smiled down at him, almost cunningly but masked as a gentle grin. Its golden eyes were half lidded, but swimming with shreds of cruelty. Mike however, paid little attention to the small details of its face – mind hooked onto one thing. 'Did it just – did it just really –
Mike's thoughts were silenced as the smaller titan groaned, opening its mouth once again to bite down upon his leg – nearly severing the limb with the man growing lightheaded from the blood loss. Still, he kept his gaze onto the hairy behemoth, watching as its face twisted into a slightly disgusted expression. Spellbound and terrified, Mike observed as The Beast Titan parted its lips.
"HUH? I THOUGHT I JUST TOLD YOU TO WAIT." It spoke, making the man's heart falter as the titan reached down and wrapped its vast hand around the head of the smaller titan, squeezing it with such force that its skull was crushed – the thing's eyeball coming out completely from its socket and blood seeping from the cracks between the monster's fingers. Mike's breath shuttered as he tumbled back to the earth, simply watching as The Beast Titan let out another irritated sigh, paying almost no heed to the abnormal titan's brain matter now decorating the small circumference around them. Mike was speechless, simply sitting upon the earth in a growing puddle of his own blood seeping from his nearly detached limb. The pain however, was dulled by his own terror and shock. 'It – spoke. Like Rogue and The Female. It's… it's another deviant!' Unable to find his tongue, Mike simply stared at the creature with a gaping jaw. The Beast Titan blinked, sighing heavily as it looked at its steaming blood soaked hand – appearing as if it was almost bored as it studied the remains of its deed for several more seconds before its yellow eyes drifted onto the frightened man again.
It then smiled again, a single brow raising in cunning – a very human like expression that make a shiver course down Mike's spine. The gesture almost looked like a noble getting ready to make an acquaintance, but with the ferocity seeded and laced within the titan's eyes – it was very clear that this was not a friendly introduction – this titan's act of freeing him from the jaws of another was not done out of kindness but malice. Mike's breath shuttered, what on earth was it doing?
The Beast Titan then briefly glanced down at the maimed but regenerating titan below him before letting out a black chuckle. "AH, PUPS. THE YOUNGSTERS DON'T LISTEN TOO WELL DO THEY?" The titan looked to him as if it was expecting him to give some sort of answer, its voice alarmingly casual.
'Pups?' Mike thought, still far from grasping his tongue. 'What the hell – what is it… talking about? Why is it – why is it doing this?' The Section Commander's mind paused, watching as the titan's cruel smile dissipated, turning into what he could almost identify as a puzzled frown.
"WELL, I WON'T BOTHER WITH INTRODUCTIONS SINCE I SEE NO POINT IN GETTING TO KNOW YOU." The Beast Titan continued, making Mike's heart pound at its subtle but telling statement – the man feeling wooziness settling in to his wounded body. The hairy titan tilted its head, an ear flickering. The seasoned Scout grew weak in his joints as the titan lifted a finger to point at him. "INTERESTING. YOU GROUP OF HUMANS HAVE CRAFTED A DEVICE MADE TO KILL US IT SEEMS. IT HAS BLADES, AND IT ALLOWS YOU TO FLY LIKE BIRDS. YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT OUR NAPES THEN." The Beat Titan frowned further, lifting its hand to stroke the hair upon its chin. "SO, WHAT DO YOU CALL THAT WEAPON?"
He grew dizzier, his mind fighting a cloud of haze. 'How – why? What is it talking about? My gear! What does it want with –
The creature sighed, placing its hands over its knees, eyes half lidded and its brows raised. "HMM… WELL I'M GOING TO HELP MYSELF TO YOUR INGINUITY."
Much to the man's horror, The Beast Titan lifted its long arm – and reached for him. Instinctively, as the shadow of the creature's hand cast over him, Mike let out a scream. In a pitiful attempt to protect himself, he scrambled to double over with his hands upon his head – cowering like a child during a thunderstorm. He could only whimper. This was it. He was to die. His life was over and no one would see his death. He couldn't warn the others, but at least he had spared some of his fellow soldiers for the time being. At least they didn't have to witness this monster.
However, death did not come to him. Mike felt a slight tug on his back and a slight current of wind sweep over him as the arm lifted away. For a moment, he remained still, too fearful to move any fiber of his body. The silence however brought him out of his pose, vision littering with black dots as he set eyes onto The Beast Titan again. In its hand was the motor containing the reels and fans to his gear – the most important piece that made the maneuver gear work. His heart plummeted. Although he couldn't even get to his feet – his chance of escaping on his gear was now gone.
The sight before him illustrated nothing but his impending doom.
The titan brought the piece of equipment closer to its face, nostrils flaring as it sniffed the steel and eyes clearly scanning every inch of it. "HOW INTRIGUING. MARVELOUS. THIS SMALL THING MAKES YOU ABLE TO SOAR." The hairy giant paused, holding the device between its index finger and thumb, looking at it completely unamused. "HOW – UTTERLY INCONVENIENT." The Beast Titan alliterated as it pinched the vital piece, the essential part to his gear crushing into a piece of useless metal as if it were a bug.
'Why is it – wait. Is this titan with - could it… really be? Or… is it acting… alone?' Mike thought, his body struggling to hold onto consciousness.
The Beast Titan then sighed yet again, gaze drifting to the trees as it lifted a finger to scratch its tapered ear. "WELL, I SUPPOSE I SHOULD GET ON WITH THE MAIN QUESTION I HAVE BEEN MEANING TO ASK." It spoke, intimidating golden pools flashing back to Mike.
Then, its almost casual mood completely disappeared, making the man's color drain from his face as The Beast Titan's façade transformed into a look of seriousness to a level that could be called dangerous as it leaned inward. Its golden eyes practically stared into the Section Commander's soul, down to his very core with the man's fear only heightening. Goosebumps invaded his clammy skin. The creature's eyes narrowed, burning with absolute wickedness.
"NOW, WHERE IS ATLAS?"
The question made a veil of silence fall over them. Mike's eyes widened with sheer confusion. 'What? Atlas? What… is it… talking about? Is it a… map? Or is it a –
The Beast frowned, exhaling in irritation. "MAYBE I SHOULD REPHRASE THAT. WHERE IS THAT DESERTING AND USELESS TITAN NAMED ATLAS?"
Mike blinked and sat up through a wave of both nausea and wooziness. 'Atlas? Atlas… is a… name? The name… of a titan?' The sentence echoed in his spinning head. He wanted to ask, ask so badly – but his throat felt constrained, squeaks only escaping his lips. The Beast Titan frowned further, steam leaving his nostrils.
"EH? WELL PERHAPS YOU HAVE SEEN HIM THEN. HE'S A GREEN EYED TITAN." The creature elaborated, making Mike's heart skip a beat. "HE'S A BIG ONE. HE HAS SKIN AND POINTED EARS. HAVE YOU SEEN THIS ATLAS HUMAN?"
The man's mind ignited with realization and even more questions at The Beast's query. Mike all but retreated into his head, eyes blown wide at what he had just heard. 'Atlas – is he really… talking about… could Atlas be –
His thoughts were silenced as The Beast Titan slowly began to stand with a deep exhale, the ground shifting beneath him. "I GUESS WE DO NOT SPEAK THE SAME LANGUAGE AFTER ALL. IT SEEMS THAT I AM JUST WASTING MY TIME HERE." The titan turned and began to walk the way which it came. Mike teetered a bit, blackness ready to welcome him into its embrace, but the man suddenly became alert once again as his eyes watched The Beast Titan abruptly stop. The creature looked over its shoulder, blinking in an almost bored manner as it looked beyond him. "OH, YOU CAN ALL MOVE NOW. NO SENSE IN WASTING GOOD MEAT."
The earth then shook again, large feet pounding against it and making the Section Commander aware of what was happening around him. The titans that were previously standing still doing nothing but observing, had been ordered to move – given clearance to devour him.
With the instincts of common prey, Mike made a last desperate attempt to get away – a completely fruitless endeavor as he only managed to crawl a few feet, his nearly detached leg flipping in wrong and in impossible directions. "No! No! Please!" The man was reduced to begging. A large hand wrapped itself around his arm, the bone crushing instantly and his body pulled backward – away from any sort of hope he had left in him.
He was doomed.
A set of teeth sunk into his shoulder, his own blood spraying into his face, his vision became blurry and the world began to darken. The small titan returned to encase its jaws around his lower half.
Grind! Snap! Pop!
The sounds of his breaking bones met his ears once again, blood decorated the earth in a crimson puddle as his legs were torn free and beginning their journey down to a monster's gullet. As another set of teeth dug into his side, shattering his ribs and crushing his lung – leaving him to vomit blood, he began to think of his life. He remembered the pleasant days of him as a child, the day he joined the cadets and met some of the greatest souls he could ever meet, he remembered his initiation as a Scout, the day he actually befriended one of the very creatures that was currently devouring him – a day that everyone else once thought impossible. The faces of his mother and father flashed before him, the taste of mother's milk, her cooking the best meals she could make, his father always coming home tired and how much he himself looked like him. His life had been great.
Mike screamed, the sound hollow before he began to choke upon his own blood. Meat was torn from his body, his intestines spilling out like ribbons and all the creatures did as they ate was smile – gurgling in pleasure at the taste of their prey. He could feel the life practically leave him, his throat tearing with each choked scream.
"SO – YOU COULD SPEAK AFTER ALL? SUCH A SHAME THAT YOU WERE TOO TERRIFIED TO DO SO."
Teeth then met his skull, bone cracking and wetness pouring down his back. Mike quit clinging to any thoughts he had as his arm was ripped free from him. The creature latched to his head began to pull as the small titan yanked on his pelvis, his body feeling like a frayed rope. Incredibly, the man was able to let out one final scream to the heavens before everything went black – the once seasoned Scout ripped in half by hungry jaws.
It was then silent again, the only sound in the abandoned village was the licking of bloodied chops.
The Beast continued to walk, brows pinched in the slightest at the result of its latest misstep. Even though the human didn't speak until his own mauling, he was able to gather some shred of evidence that what he was looking for was closer than ever before. They had never come this fair in their quest.
The seventeen-meter behemoth rounded a corner into a clearing complete with a small stream and mill, the light of a soon arriving afternoon bathing the single structure and small fauna. From behind the mill, the ever familiar Armored Titan stepped out – golden plates creaking with the shift of his exposed muscles. The Beast frowned. The Armored too, was empty handed. He only hoped that his partner had found more pieces to the complex puzzle. The Beast then came to meet the other giant, the two standing shoulder to shoulder and facing opposite directions.
"SO, I TAKE IT THAT YOU DIDN'T FIND OUR TARGET?"
The Armored Titan grumbled, the plates on his face parting away to reveal his mouth. "NOTT… A SIGNN." The titan spoke, voice restrained but deep and guttural. "HUMANSS WOULDD NOTT… SPEAK. I… COULD NOTT… SMELL HIMM. THEY DIDD NOT… HELP. SO… I DIDD AS YOU ASKKED, EZEKIEL."
The Beast Titan let out a breath, irritated that none of the insignificant beings had given their target's location. "UNFORTUNATE. I HOWEVER PICKED UP A SMALL PIECE OF EVIDENCE THAT WHO WE ARE LOOKING FOR IS INDEED HERE BEHIND THE HUMANS' FORTRESS." Ezekiel began, watching out of the corner of his eye as the Armored Titan's bright yellow pools widened in interest. "I CAME ACROSS A MALE HUMAN THAT WAS IN POSSESSION OF A DEVICE THAT ALLOWED HIM TO FLY AND KILL OUR KIND. I BELIEVE THESE TYPES OF HUMANS ARE THE ONES YOU SPOKE TO ME ABOUT SOME TIME AGO." He paused with the other titan nodding to confirm. "THIS MALE WAS TOO FIGHTENED TO SPEAK, BUT I BELIEVE HE KNEW OUR GREEN EYED TITAN VERY WELL FOR THE SCENT OF THE BASTARD WAS ALL OVER HIM. THUS, THESE FLYING HUMANS ARE QUITE POSSIBLY THE KEY HERE IN FINDING HIM, ANSGAR."
The Armored Titan, Ansgar, nodded again. "I SHALL… SEEKK THEMM."
"WE COULD HAVE NOT PICKED A BETTER DAY TO. I SHALL RETREAT FOR THE TIME BEING AS YOU CONTINIUE YOUR SEARCH. I WILL ACT AND PROVIDE AID IF NEED BE. GOLIATH WILL BE ON STANDBY. I WILL BE LEAVING JUST BEFORE THE SUN RISES. IF YOU SUCCEED IN THIS MISSION, YOU ARE TO DO AS INSTRUCTED."
"AS… YOUU WISHH, EZEKIEL"
The Beast Titan took a step in advance before pausing to express a final thought. "ALSO, IT'S HIGHLY LIKELY THAT OUR FELLOW WARRIOR IS DEAD ANSGAR. MIXED WITHIN HIS MUSK WAS HERS. YOU BEST BE CAREFUL SHOULD YOU ENCOUNTER HIM. IF HE HAS MASTERED HIS POWERS – YOU MAY NOT STAND A CHANCE AGAINST HIM."
Sasha made her way through a woodland, the low canopy blocking the steady afternoon sun. Lynn and Henning had branched off just minutes prior to warn the nearby villages as she herself was heading right for her own. She swallowed fretfully. The odds were not in her favor. Her hometown, Dauper, was nearly as south as Ragako, meaning that there was a very real chance that titans had already made their way into it. Not soon after their group split ways, she and the two squad leaders that she was paired with encountered two fourteen-meters abnormals that exhausted nearly half of her gas and dulled her single pair of her blades to where they were almost unusable. She would have to avoid any further contact with the bloodthirsty giants if possible. She needed the essentials for getting back to the group. Sasha swallowed, fighting the lump that had taken residence in her throat. She hoped that her father escaped at least. He was the last living family member that she had left – the others having left the earth due to old age, sickness, or hunting accidents. Hopefully, titans as a cause of death would still be off the list.
The brunette steered her horse around another bend, her mind thinking back to her father. It had been three years since she had seen him or her village – time being spent in The Cadets and The Scouts. Sasha could vaguely recall the day before she left to join the Military. She had gotten in a mild disagreement with her father. Although she couldn't remember the full gist of it, Sasha knew that it was over the conservation of food and the effects the breach had upon the farmers of Maria. She had been selfish in that argument – having stolen food from the storehouse. Her father had said that perhaps they should give up hunting to farm and provide food for more people. Thinking back at the fact, the teen couldn't believe she didn't agree with him. Sasha signed up for The Cadets soon after to serve and aid humanity. Her hunting skills were put to good use in The Scouts. She could track the creatures that had taken away their lives and help destroy them to get back what was theirs. Any gardening techniques she knew, she shared with her regiment and utilized her hunting skills to hunt for game with Rogue in toe to treat deserving soldiers. She really hoped that her father was safe so that she could apologize for her arrogance so long ago. She hoped that her home and its residents were able to evacuate.
She hoped for the best.
The trees continued to pass her. Sasha kept her keen eyes sharp, searching for any slight clues that a titan was nearby, passed through, or any sign that the residents of Dauper fled unscathed. So far, things looked ordinary. She knew better however. The animals were silent, just as they always were when a predator was around. Her chest grew heavy, knowing it was a sign that she didn't wish to see knowing that it didn't mean good news. Memorizing the land by heart from her long hours of exploring it when she was a child, Sasha pulled on her reins to guide the horse to her left – leading the equine onto the dirt path that would lead her to her village. No sooner after she began to let it guide her, Sasha spotted her first shred of evidence on the fate of her village.
Upon the dirt path were the tell-tale tracks of horses and carriages. All of which were fresh – at least a few hours old. 'The stable horses, the town must have got to them in time and escaped.' Sasha thought frantically as she continued to study the path as she rode along. 'Perhaps father is –
The teen's thoughts halted as a new set of tracks appeared in the soft earth, ones that made her heart sink and her hopes diminish. It was a set of footprints, not mistakenly a small titan's – one that could have been no more than two meters tall. The tracks were fresh, but more so than those related to the village citizens. The fact made her steady herself a bit. The monster had arrived into the village long after the residents left. 'Why wouldn't a titan follow a group of humans?' Sasha pondered. "If it's an abnormal like the others have been, it would have gone after the largest group of humans the closest to it. Unless –
She paused in her thoughts, the realization dawning upon her. 'Unless there are a few people that were left behind.' Sasha contemplated, her breath growing ragged. 'Any titan, normal or abnormal will go for any opportunity that they have for a morsel of food." With the damning and great possibility hanging in her head, Sasha commanded her mount to go even faster through the wood. Within minutes the thicket peeled away to reveal her village.
"When did all of this get here?" She asked herself. Indeed, her small hunting village had grown. Before there were less than thirty residences and just the essential shops. Now, it seemed that her village had become a small town. Cresting over the hill, Sasha could easily spot an entire market, a bank, a church, and many other new amenities she couldn't label. A cloud drifted over the gradually sinking sun, coating the area in a shade – making the once flourishing place feel melancholy and creepy. Sasha urged her horse faster with a few clicks of her tongue, ordering her horse to leap across a drawn bridge to the other side - a technique that a normal horse had no chance in achieving, the Scout's horses having been bred for their agility.
Sasha knew the first place she was headed, her home in search of her father – hoping that he was among those that escaped. Again, she began to examine her surroundings. It was clear that the part of town was vacant, no living soul to be seen. The surrounding structures were mostly in tact – only a few would need rebuilt. Although she lacked the nose of a titan, Sasha could certainly smell the iron like scent of blood. Human blood. She could feel herself sweat, her heart beginning to pound. Sasha steered her horse around another bend – coming face to face with the remains of slaughter. There was no full carcass, only pieces such as arms, a leg, and fingers scattered along the walk that was now stained red. A dead horse lay nearby, mostly likely smashed when a behemoth had grabbed its rider. Sasha felt a wave of nausea as her eyes continued to stare, watching flies already gather. She had been through Trost and the bloody 57th expedition, but she always lost her appetite and was always shaken down to her boots at the sight of what the titans would leave behind. Shaking her head in a sad attempt to regain her focus, Sasha then began to survey once again, seeing no life within the cracked and broken windows and no soul trapped in any rubble, she began to move toward the outskirts of town. She paid no attention to the fact that there were many new establishments around her, but rather looking and listening over her equine's cantering hooves.
'Something is off here. It's much too quiet and not even scavengers are here for easy pickings. The small titan must still be around. And if that's true, then there must be someone else here that got left behind.' Sasha thought, her eyes suddenly widening in realization. 'Oh no! She could still be here!' The teen kicked her horse into a gallop, heading right for a small house on the southeast side of Dauper. When she had departed from her home three years prior, she knew nearly all that lived in her hometown. There was a widow that lived with her young daughter on the border of Dauper. The pair was quiet and mostly kept to themselves. The daughter didn't play much for she was always taking care of her mother for the woman was paralyzed. Sasha couldn't remember their names just their faces – her mind too much in a flurry. It was entirely possible that they were barricaded in their home. She could only hope that the titan hadn't found them yet.
Within minutes, she arrived upon her destination – a small cottage on the corner of town. It was a bland building; it could even be called boring in comparison to the rest of the structures. Every fixture was basic and there was no colorful paint. Sasha paused, stopping her steed for a moment to listen. The sound that met her ears made heart rise to her throat. She had heard the sound so many times before – that of a predator feasting upon its kill.
The titan was nearby.
Listening closer, she heard something else that only elevated her fear. It was a series of strangled grunts and whimpers. In her years of hunting with her father and by herself, she only knew it as one thing – the very thing that kicked her into high gear yet again. She pulled at the leather reins of her horse's halter, turning it around to circle the structure until she came to the back. The rear of the house was just as bland if not more than the front. Behind the house was nothing but a shabby piazza like the one back at the castle, littered with sprigs of weeds that had pushed their way through the cobblestones. A lone well sat in the center of the yard, looking worn. Sasha's eyes easily caught sight of the one thing that she had been dreading – a sight that made her blood chill.
The back door to the cottage had been ripped off its hinges, laying aside in splinters. Just beyond the doorway, she could see the crouched form of a two-meter titan with its rear facing her. It was clear that it was feeding, blood pooling beneath it and the stench wavering through her nostrils. It was like a scene in a horror novel, but the thing that unnerved her the most was what the window adjacent to the doorway revealed.
The mother's daughter, a girl no older than eight with short blonde locks, was seated on the other side of the glass – her gaze fixed upon the scene playing out before her. At first, Sasha concluded that the girl was dead – only to be proven wrong when she caught the faint rise and fall of her chest. The teen's hair stood on end, knowing and preparing to carry out her next action. She had to rescue. There was no other option. She had to defeat the two-meter. She couldn't hesitate any longer than she already had. Time could not be wasted.
Quietly, she dismounted her horse and hastily tied it to a lone post before turning to face the horror before her. Thankfully, the titan hadn't twisted to greet her yet with its jaws, most likely too enwrapped with its kill. Sasha felt sicker at the thought. Such a beast the thing was to care more about filling itself with flesh rather than her presence or its naked nape. Recalling her studies in The Cadet classes, she knew that some abnormal titans relied one sense more than the other. Perhaps the one before her used primarily sight. If it was true, she would have to kill the beast quickly. She had no other options. The teen then took a deep breath, preparing herself for what was to come.
Ever so slowly, Sasha's hands met the hilts of her gear to lift the blades, finding evidence to the fact that she had made a miscalculation, a grave miscalculation. Her pairing swords were absolutely dull with even chips of steel missing. Worn down by constant abuse and slicing of titan skin. At this, a shutter ran through her body. 'Oh no! They are duller than I thought! There's no way that I could break its skin with these! How am I going to –
Sasha then stopped mid-sentence, her frantic eyes catching sight of an old ax sitting by a pile of weathered wood – looking like it hadn't see use in years. Knowing that it was her only option, the teen briskly walked towards the tool and wrapped her trembling hands around the handle. Picking it up, she knew it was heavier that her blades – most likely made of steel. She was uncertain if she could even break the beast's skin with it. She would have to hit the nape with tremendous force, but even that may or may not split the flesh. She could still defend herself with it though if need be – and it was likely to come to that. Sasha took a step in advance, her ankles feeling weak as she approached the doorway, her breath hitched and beads of sweat sprouted upon her skin. She paused for a moment. She needed to keep herself together. She was a soldier, one of the top ten in The Cadet Core. She was one of the strongest graduates and thus had to be tough. Sasha inhaled and exhaled deeply to regain herself. She was the hunter here; she would not allow herself to become prey.
Returning to a determined state of mind, Sasha approached carefully, like a cat stalking a mouse as she stood just inches from the doorway, her eyes falling upon a gruesome sight that made her heart thump rapidly again. Her nose wrinkled at the foul odor of blood, mass amounts of crimson soaking in the wooden floor. The titan was still seated upon the blood saturated ground, chewing slowly with its eyes sealed shut in what Sasha could label as pleasure. In its grip, was the mother of the young girl. The teen could only blink in shock as the realization came to her.
The mother was being eaten alive.
The woman's eyes were half lidded, dark beneath them due to the great amount of blood her body had spilled. Her arm and leg was held in the titan's hands. The sight of the woman's leg nearly made Sasha's stomach turn over. Massive chunks of carrion had been bitten from the limb, muscle stands dangling out of the creature's mouth and out of the open wound. The fibula was snapped in two, sticking straight out of the bloody meat – the creature even enjoying the taste of the marrow. The most alarming thing that Sasha noticed was the fact that the widow could feel absolutely nothing – not even the beast's teeth brushing against her skin. It was clear to Sasha, no matter how much she wished to, she could not save the mother. The woman had lost far too much blood and her leg was beyond repair. The look upon the mother's face told her that she too was fully aware of the grim fact.
The paralyzed woman's hand then unfolded upon the floor, her index finger gesturing to the window. Sasha could feel her heart sink. The young girl was clearly in shock. Her eyes were wide and unblinking, pupils dilated as she continued to watch the gruesome feast – almost completely separated from reality. To the child, Sasha or her surroundings didn't exist – just the image of her mother being devoured before her. The teen gulped, she would have to do what was needed quickly.
Planting her feet firmly upon the ground, Sasha gripped the handle of the axe in a stronghold, her knuckles turning white at the force. Then, like a hunter, she charged to attack with a cry of dominance – swinging the axe in a high arc and smashing it down upon the titan's exposed nape. To her dismay, the old blade barely broke the skin, but amazingly the beast kept on with its business. Determined, Sasha swung the axe again, bringing it down upon the same spot as before but was quickly reminded as to why the military never used pure steel weapons. With the second hit, the blade bounced upon the titan's hide so harshly that the top half of the tool turned weapon snapped in half – the blade flying inches past her head to become lodged into the ceiling.
Sasha froze, feeling almost paralyzed herself as she slowly looked back to see if the titan had finally noticed her presence. It only continued to sink its teeth into the woman's gaping wound further – the limb close to being separated. Sasha gulped, praying that the beast wouldn't look up as she slowly passed by just feet from it as she made her way to the widow's stunned daughter. The mother's eyes met hers for a final time, Sasha swearing that there was a little bit of peace and relief laden in them. Still, the teen felt so guilty.
"I'm so sorry." She muttered to the woman as a final apology while she made her way to the young girl – the titan still failing to notice her. The girl, despite Sasha's actions, was still watching the creature feast – her grey eyes swimming with nothing but a mixture of fear and bewilderment. Knowing that it was only a matter of time before the two-meter would turn its attention onto them, Sasha lightly grabbed the girl's shoulder. "Hey!" She hastily whispered, shaking the girl in the slightest – the touch bringing the girl from her stupor with a gasp. Ensuring that the child wouldn't scream, Sasha cupped her hand over the girl's mouth – looking at her intensely with the young girl now completely alert and aware of her surroundings. "Listen! I'm Sasha, I'm a Scout! I'm here to get you out of here so follow –
However, the teen stopped mid-sentence as she watched the girl suddenly shift her gaze behind her, eyes widening even further and her body tensing. Knowing just what was happening, Sasha turned to see what she was dreading. The small titan slowly lifted its head up away from its prize for its greed. The creature's eyes opened to reveal cold blue irises – those that only looked as if they belonged on the most starving man. For a moment, the three only continued to stare at one another until the beast's jaws parted to let out an open mouthed growl, blood and sinew dripping down its chin and coating the front of its chest. Its legs shifted beneath it, the beast's growling growing louder and bloody saliva seeping from between its teeth. It was clear to Sasha as to what the creature was about to do – lunge at them at any second. With the girl still behind her, the teen snaked her hand around the girl's, her eyes catching an item upon an old shelf that she had not noticed when she came in. Upon the top of a shelf and buried beneath a layer of dust, was a weapon that could buy her enough time so she could get herself and the child to safety – if she was able to reach it. It was a bow with two arrows lying next to it – the handmade hunting gear likely having belonged to the widow's late husband and saw no use in many years. If she could manage to blind the beast to rid it from using its primary sense, then she and the mother's daughter could slip away on horseback. Looking back at the titan that was lifting itself onto its haunches, she knew that she would have to work swiftly and quickly.
Sasha watched the muscles in the titan's legs, the slight tensing sending her into action. Pulling the girl along, the teen nearly leaped to her right, seconds before the two-meter lunged forward with a roar to crash where they were standing moments before. As Sasha rounded the table that resided in the room's center, the titan shrieked as it pounced yet again. Dishes flew and shattered as the titan plowed into the piece of furniture, the wooden table caving beneath the small giant's weight. Sasha felt the corner of the table dig into her hip to break through the skin, but high on adrenaline, she easily ignored it and quickly grabbed the bow and arrows, pushing the girl ahead of her and pointing towards their only exit.
"Run! My horse is just outside!" She ushered as she trailed after the girl – the titan lunging again and colliding into the wall just behind her. The teen pushed herself after the girl, placing one of the arrows between her teeth and lowering the other one into the bow in preparation. The afternoon light met her skin as she made her way through the doorway, seeing the young girl approaching her disturbed horse – the equine whinnying and shifting due to the calamity that just occurred within the cottage. 'I'm going to have to blind it quickly! I only have two shots!' Sasha concluded as she gave herself a little more distance before turning with the arrow poised. The titan charged forward again, pushing itself upright and barreling trough the doorway, the façade of the building crumbling and beams snapping as it roared. She quickly aimed and released the old arrow, the point meeting its mark in the titan's left eye. The creature shrieked in agony as more of the cottage came down over it, the ruckus causing her horse to rear at the harsh sound and to Sasha's misfortune the horse bolted – its strength uprooting the pole and tether. "NO! You have got to be kidding me!" Sasha staggered. With her steed gone, she would definitely have to subdue the titan and make a run for safety on foot.
Even if she could get away, there was no guarantee that she and the child wouldn't come across another titan or two. She couldn't count on her horse finding her again after such a spook. The odds were not in her favor. The young girl picked herself up off the ground, the teen surprised that a hoof had not come down upon her. "Run!" Sasha cried desperately. "Run along the trail! I'll come find you!" She pleaded, the girl only gasping.
"Sasha!" The child warned frantically. "Sasha!"
The teen turned back to the beast, seeing that it had crawled from the rubble and was snarling at her yet again, its bloody grin haunting. 'I need to blind it here! For us to have a chance in escaping. I can't miss –
However, Sasha didn't have time to finish her thoughts as the creature charged forward with its jaws wide, moving on all fours like a hellish animal. She didn't have time to ready her arrow in the bow. As the titan edged closer, a primal instinct fired throughout her body – a surge of adrenaline that made the world crystal clear. Releasing her own battle cry of sorts, her hand flung the bow away while the other gripped the deadly arrow, the teen ready to strike the one place were any weapon could penetrate a titan. Before the beast's putrid breath could rustle the hairs upon her skin, Sasha lunged forth with her weapon raised and with every bit of force she had – plunged the arrow straight into the beast's cornea. The titan let out another bloodcurdling screech that rattled hear eardrums.
She wasn't out of the woods yet.
Sasha could clearly feel the titan's weight around her, arms wrapping over her back. The teen's breath became hitched as she felt her ribs practically creak – lungs compressing with the force. She needed to get away! She needed to see her friends and father again! The blood on the titan's chest began to seep through her uniform, the smell nauseating and enough to propel her again into high gear. Using a move that she had learned from her father himself upon a simple self-defense lesson as a child, Sasha quickly placed an open palm beneath the titan's chin and pushed upward, forcing the titan's head up with a crack. Utilizing the blood to her advantage, Sasha managed to maneuver beneath the beast's bulk to free herself – leaving the crippled titan moaning and pawing at its face. Knowing good and well that time could not be wasted, Sasha quickly ran for the girl to take her hand and bolt.
"Come on! We need to move quickly to give us distance between it!" Sasha urged as she held on tightly to the little girl, her heart pounding. As cruel as it sounded, she hoped that if the titan managed to get the arrows out and regenerate that it would return to the interior of the cottage to continue its work. At least the beast couldn't take the woman's daughter too. Within minutes, the pair came upon the drawbridge exiting Dauper. With no exchange of words, Sasha hoisted the girl over the gap and quickly followed suit.
They kept running. Even though her lungs ached, her legs kept pumping.
Minutes passed as Sasha guided the child down the path which she came. The thicket around them was quiet again, making the teen feel almost alone once anew. After a quick but thorough observation, Sasha slowed her run to a jog and began to allow herself to think yet again. The titan must have gone back for the girl's nearly deceased mother and the previous titans in the area were likely roaming around far ahead looking for their next meal. Of course, there was blood upon her shirt that could hone one of the beasts to her position. She would have to get rid of it soon to not put their safety in jeopardy. She would attempt to call her horse as soon as she was absolutely certain that they were not followed whatsoever. Sasha's eyes then widened as she recalled the young girl in her possession. Worried for the child's well-being, Sasha looked over her shoulder to see that the reality as to what transpired had swept over the girl again. Grey eyes were once more wide and unblinking with her jaw not clinched in the slightest. She could feel her own heart ache at the disconnection the mother's daughter displayed. It seemed as if the girl was just letting her drag her along with no objection.
"You're – so nice."
"Huh?" The child's sudden words caught her off guard, making her slow her jog into a brisk walk. "What?"
The girl let her gaze drift to her feet. "Everyone in the village knew my mom's legs were bad. Mr. Blouse sent a group of men to help my mom as he helped other children escape." The girl explained quietly, making Sasha's brows raise in astonishment. "The men didn't help. They just stood outside and said that my mother would only slow them down."
The statement made her feel sick yet again, but she willed herself to listen further.
"I was so scared." The girl continued, the pair slowing to a regular walk. "I couldn't move."
Sasha didn't quite know what to say to the girl, but she needed to comfort. "It happens to even the Scouts when they see certain titans." The teen reassured. "I'm – so sorry about your mother. We couldn't have saved her. She lost so much blood." She gritted her teeth. "I wish I could have gotten to you earlier."
The girl only let her head fall again, finally blinking as she simply stared into the dirt path, the pair having completely stopped. Seizing the moment as an opportunity, Sasha examined her surroundings yet again to check for any signs of titans that could be nearby. When her search revealed nothing, Sasha lifted her fingers to her mouth and gave a whistle, hoping her equine could hear it. She would need her horse to get to Ehrmich where hopefully the Scouts or the other branches of the Military could escort the girl and others to Sina in a more secure manner.
Hearing the query, Sasha paused in her attempts to place her attention onto the girl. Much to her surprise, the child had traded her petrified façade for a more serious look. "Yes?"
"Sasha… The Rogue Titan is with the Scouts correct?"
At the innocent question, the teen could feel her chest tighten. Was it possible that the girl was angry and resentful that she was the only one of her regiment to show up – the famous titan slaying titan not with her to squash the two-meter like an insect? "Yes… he's in Ehrmich district so they can get supplies to fill the hole." She stuttered, fearing the worst.
The child nodded. "Okay, but I think he's looking for him."
"L… looking for him?" Sasha queried, heart beating wildly again.
"The Armored Titan. He was here. He – could talk just like they say that The Rogue does in the papers."
The teen's jaw began to slowly drop. 'The Armored can talk as well!'
"The Armored Titan killed several people, but before it did it kept asking us where the traitorous green-eyed titan was. Rogue – he has green eyes doesn't he?"
Sasha's eyes widened even further to the point that they were completely open. "Y…es. Yes, he does." Her mind began to contemplate. 'Traitorous? What… what did Rogue do? What happened to him?'
"The Armored Titan also said a name I think, but the screaming was too loud so didn't catch it."
'A name?' Sasha pondered frantically. 'Could it be –
"Sasha," The girl captured her attention yet again. "I think Rogue could be great danger."
Her heart skipped a beat, her ears catching the sound of galloping hooves. A great sense of relief washed over her as she turned to see her father approaching with a team of the other villagers – the man having her horse in tow. She was safe. They were safe.
"Dad?" Sasha muttered, still finding herself surprised, watching as he quickly dismounted from his horse and embraced her in his arms, the teen almost too stunned from her ordeal and the news she just learned to return the gesture.
"Thank god yer' safe." Her father began again, his rough voice and deep woods accent calming her. It had been far too long since she had heard it. "We were comin' back to look for anyone that got left behind when we found yer' horse." The man's eyes widened as he spotted the blood upon her garbs. "Sasha! Are ye hurt?"
Quickly she shook her head. "I'm fine! It's not mine," Sasha trailed off, watching as the girl was led back to the group and placed onto a horse to sit with one of Dauper's residents, her father's eyes following the child as well and obviously coming to the correct conclusion.
"I see that the guys I sent to help that gal's mother didn't make it." He sighed, adjusting his hat. "Damn it."
Sasha opened her mouth to tell her father what really happened, but decided that she needed to address a more pressing matter first. "Dad! Can you escort me to Ehrmich district? I have an urgent message for Commander Erwin!"
With no hesitation, he nodded. "Of course Sasha! Hop on!"
She dipped her head in thanks and mounted her much calmer steed. One of the villagers quickly offered her their clean shirt that she hurriedly accepted before riding out into the woods towards the district. For several minutes, her father was quiet – all eyes upon their surroundings to ensure that they were well off before turning to his daughter. "I'm glad to see yer' back Sasha. I'm very proud of yah."
Sasha blinked before giving into a smile. "Thanks dad. It's nice to see you too." Her cheeks reddened in the slightest, her father grinning at her in likeness before letting his face grow serious again.
"Now, I wonder what that titan of yer's did to piss off that armored fella. Must've been pretty bad for that bastard to show his face 'round here again."
Sasha gulped, knowing that the Scout's hypothesis about Rogue and The Armored Titan connection to The Female were highly true. "Yeah, I wonder too."
"Springer! Slow down!"
Armin observed fretfully as his friend pushed his horse further and further ahead of their party. As time had passed and they rode closer and closer to Ragako, Connie had grown more and more disturbed. His friend could barely sit still in his saddle, his flesh was pale, and he was constantly wiping the sweat from his hands. Armin didn't blame him for his behavior. He was the very same five years ago during the breach when titans first invaded Wall Maria. Thinking about it, it haunted him even more now than it did back then. Rogue, his best friend, could be the very reason as to why it happened in the first place. The very thought unnerved him. If the Armored wasn't back for just treating itself and the other titans to a feast, then he wondered as to what Rogue could have done. He really wanted to know Rogue's past more than anything.
"Connie slow down!"
Hearing Krista call out to the buzz cut teen, Armin pulled himself from his thoughts and onto reality again. Connie was almost several meters ahead of them, pushing his horse to the limit. Armin swallowed. What the teen was doing was risky and dangerous. Sure, Connie was frightened, but like treading in unsafe waters, the teen had to calm down. Otherwise, things would get worse.
Nanaba grunted, her lips drawing into a snarl as she suddenly whipped her reins. The act put her horse forward in a charge, the animal sprinting until Nanaba pulled, making the equine curve sharply and come to a stop right in Connie's path. The teen's horse immediately halted, rearing in protest at the abrupt obstruction. Connie's face turned into a mixture of frustration and surprise.
"Springer." Nanaba began firmly. "You need to stay with the group."
Connie's eyes narrowed. "But Section Commander! My family –
"Connie!" Nanaba interrupted. "I understand what you are feeling right now and I believe many of the others here can relate. However, you are a soldier. You must remain calm in situations like this one. You can't just go and behave brashly. You could easily put yourself and your squad mates in jeopardy. Behaving like you are, you could attract titans to us easily or be caught off guard by one. If your parents did survive and were able to make it to safety – I'm sure you would like to be there to greet them." The woman finished, the world still for a moment – Connie's jaws completely slacked before his cheeks flushed. The teen blinked several times before hanging his head in shame.
"Sorry, Sir. I'll stay with the group." Connie apologized quietly, his words almost running together. Nanaba smiled sympathetically.
"Alright. We'll move quickly. You recruits follow Gelgar and I. Ragako is just up ahead, so we need to be cautious. Follow our orders closely. You all need to be very alert from here on out."
No time was wasted as they were off again, riding in silence with the others looking around in search of titans that could be lingering in the nearby thickets – ready to steal another morsel. Armin swallowed, keeping to himself yet again. Back when he and his friends were cadets and Connie spoke of Ragako, he had described it as just a sleepy village that was merely another place in the countryside to just get what one would need, rest up, and pass through. Connie had noted that it was made up of casual farmers that raised small collections of crops and cared for animals like chickens and dairy cows – the village profiting off eggs and milk. His friend had spoken so much about how he wanted to do more than just milk cows all his life – wanting to prove to his parents that he was a good enough soldier to join the MPs and serve the king himself. Rogue had changed Connie's decision though – one that the teen had said was for the better. He could serve humanity with the infamous Rogue Titan, helping them to defeat the titan scourge.
Hearing Mikasa's fretted tone, Armin came back to earth to focus upon the dark-haired teen.
He watched as Mikasa nervously pulled her scarf over her nose, eyes narrowing at the horizon up ahead. "I have a bad feeling about this. I'm expecting the worst to be honest with you, Armin." The teen whispered, giving him a sideways glance as their team began to ascend up a hill.
Armin sighed, experiencing the same. "I do too, Mikasa. I don't think an entire village could survive a sudden attack by titans." He paused, thinking further. "Something is not right with his entire thing. I think we're missing a piece of the puzzle somewhere."
Mikasa exhaled. "I agree."
He said nothing as they continued on, the teen's blue eyes watching the sky, observing as it seemed to grow more orange by the second. It was only a few hours till nightfall, and he was looking forward to it. At least he could let his nerves wind down and some decent time to think. He wanted to put any of the pieces of the elaborate puzzle that he had together.
The entire event made him sick to his stomach.
Their squad continued to advance, the teen observing his superiors ahead of him. However, at the top of the knoll, Nanaba and Gelgar suddenly came to a halt. Armin immediately tugged on his reins, his horse nearly bucking in protest at the sudden command. The steed finally came to a halt next to the blonde Section Commander who looked to be almost frozen solid as she stared ahead. Following her gaze, Armin then witnessed a damning sight that made his frame go rigid.
At the foot of the hill was a small village, Ragako. It was composed of small plaster houses resembling those that once stood in Shiganshina. Connie would have been right about it just being a pit stop on a way to someone's destination. Now however, it was anything but.
It looked like a natural disaster had struck.
The vast majority of the buildings were damaged, roofs were caved and walls were torn down. A few houses looked to have been knocked off their foundations. Smoke rose up in an ominous cloud to the heavens, the area still dusty from the invasion. Armin's nostrils flared as a scent met his nose, one that enticed flashbacks from Trost's cleanup. Armin swallowed, any hope that he had for Connie's family had diminished. It was evident that the worst had happened.
Peering over, he could see the teen's face fall – skin nearly white and golden eyes swept with sheer terror. Connie's hands shook as Armin practically watched as the other's knuckles turn white as well. The male's lip quivered, Connie paying no attention to anyone else as they looked from him to what was left of Ragako.
"No… NO!" Connie screamed, suddenly charging down the steep hill and ignoring Nanaba's previous warning. "Mom! Dad!" The recruit cried. "Sunny! Martin!"
"Come on!" Gelgar began as he pushed his horse after the teen. "We need to get moving!"
They redeployed quickly, his heart pounding rapidly. Glancing over at Mikasa, she wore a look of incredible concern – matching his own. As they drew closer, the odor became more putrid and it made his stomach churn even more. Mikasa and the others as well seemed to notice it, Jean in particular with his hand snaking up to his mouth and brows knitting together. Armin swallowed, if the smell could reach as far as it could to paralyze him at their location – then the carnage was going to be terrible.
Finally, at the bottom of the hill, he and the others followed Connie closely as they approached Ragako. Armin mentally prepared himself as they entered.
They quickly came to a dead stop.
Armin's mouth fell open, a squeak leaving him. Any scream he had was caught in his throat. The world suddenly seemed so quiet and still. The environment around them was so red. The teen began to sweat, suddenly feeling sicker to his stomach. He had been used to seeing gore in recent years, slicing open a deer's belly to cutting away the nape of a titan and watching Rogue brutally tear the towering beasts limb from limb. This brand of gore though was like that of Shiganshina. This was absolutely unnerving and revolting.
There was no way that he would even find the comforts of sleep the coming evening.
Connie's village had no stone paths or brick walks. It was just the earth – the ground saturated with spills and splatters of blood. Wreckage of the modest houses lay strewn across what could have been considered as a village square, but Armin paid no attention to it. He could only look at the bodies.
Or rather what was left of them.
Littered amongst the rubble were the mangled corpses of Ragako's residents. They were a titan's leftover table scraps. Arms, hands, and legs lay draped over bits and pieces of debris – flies circling around them and buzzards fighting over fingers and toes. Even organs lay out in the afternoon sun; brain matter decorating stones and even a string of intestines hanging off a collapsed roof like clothesline. One or two torsos could be spotted, the beasts' teeth marks still left in them as chunks of the meat were removed. A few 'lucky' corpses had simply gotten smashed by rubble whereas others were crushed beneath the weight of a titan's foot – simply a mushy pulp mixed with bone, skin, and hair. A few dead animals lay to rot in the sun as well, a few spared horses nickering and expressing their stress from in the stables. Weak fire burned here and there, producing the smell of burning flesh that had hit their squad full blast. The most disturbing things though, were the titan pellets scattered in various places, each translucent ball holding the heads and body parts of the village victims – frightened faces within completely frozen in time, the pellets still dripping with a mixture of mucus and saliva.
Ragako looked like the aftermath of a war.
Hearing a rustle next to him, Armin tuned to see Jean leaning over his horse to vomit – the very thing that Armin was struggling to hold in. Mikasa, with her scarf over her mouth, only stared at the carnage with distress laden in her irises with the others sharing the same expression.
"My… god." Gelgar stuttered. "This… is –
"Mom!" Connie suddenly cried. "Dad!" The teen charged again, his horse haphazardly stepping through the wreckage.
At the teen's careless charge, the squad started after him, riding their horses through the wreckage with utmost caution. He could barely look down knowing that there was more carnage beneath him as he and the rest of his squad trailed Connie. Following the frantic teen and his horse, they weaved in and out of buildings, shadowing the male if he was to take a detour. Armin swallowed. Connie was beside himself and he damn sure hoped that no titans were in the area. Finally, Connie slowed his horse before a small cottage with a fenced in enclosure attached to it. The house, like the others, was nearly in shambles. One of the walls was falling apart and half of the roof was missing.
The young male cried for his parents yet again, failing to steer his horse away from a beam lying upon the ground – the equine's leg catching the wood. The horse juddered as it tumbled, making Connie roll in a short fall to the ground. Alarmed, he and the others dismounted to ensure that their longtime friend was fine and likely chide him for his recklessness yet again, but the teen surprised them as he scrambled to his feet – likely running on adrenaline. Armin watched silently, preparing himself as he observed Connie attempt to open the door to his home, the teen's palms sweaty and unsteady. He bit his lip as he watched the boy curse beneath his breath and slam into the door with his shoulder. At the impact, the wooden door fell away to allow Connie to rush inside.
His fellow soldier then stopped, simply standing in the center of the destroyed cottage.
Weary, Armin entered with Mikasa, only to find that the dwelling was empty. There was nothing but rubble. Food was scattered around with broken cutlery and wooden bowls. Clothing was ripped and the furniture was in pieces. Large wooden supports lay like fallen logs in a mess of shingles. Connie stood in the center of the room, twisting his head around to examine things in a state of bewilderment.
"M…Mom?" Connie muttered. "Dad? Martin? Sunny?" The teen paused, bending down to assess the ruble, his hands gripping chunks of his home and tossing it from his wake. After what seemed like minutes, Connie paused before standing upright. Armin watched as the recruit's face began to regain its color. "I – I don't think they are here." He said simply, letting out a shaky sigh.
"There were some horses missing from the stables. Perhaps your family retreated on them." Jean suggested with Krista nodding in agreement.
"Yeah Connie, I bet your family was able to get to safety, your house looks to be on the edge of your village." She enlightened with Connie calming even further.
"Yeah," He began quietly. "We did have a horse of our own. Knowing my dad, he probably put my brother and sister on it and sent them toward the closest district. My parents possibly went to the stables and got horses there. My dad – he always had a plan just in case titans invaded Wall Rose." Connie elaborated, giving another sigh in relief and smiling in the slightest.
Armin said nothing, there was a feeling that he couldn't quite shake from him – a feeling that everything afore them wasn't as it seemed.
"Well," Gelgar began, gathering their attention. "We still have orders. We need to search for survivors. Nanaba and I will check the north side of Ragako while you recruits scan the south side. We might need the spare horses, so after we complete our searches we will take the three remaining. Connie, your horse, if it's injured too badly you'll need to use one of the remaining three, got it?" The man glared daggers at Connie, Gelgar clearly showing his vexation with the teen.
"Yes, Sir. I apologize for my ignorance."
The Squad leader only nodded. "Good. Now, as it stands, this village is a beacon to any titans that might be in the area. You all have fifteen minutes and not a minute more to scout your perimeter. We'll meet back here before departing. Understood?"
"Understood!" The group of teens responded before the two veterans left the devastated cottage.
"Remember, be extra careful. Be very aware of your surroundings." Gelgar paused just outside. "Stay together as a group."
"Yes, Sir!" They saluted as their superiors mounted the equines yet again, simply acknowledging them with a nod before riding off into the maze of buildings and dwellings.
Jean folded his arms, looking over to make sure their horses were sound before turning to the team of recruits. "Okay, where should we start?" The teen looked at Armin, obviously expecting an answer from him.
The blonde rubbed his chin, before his mind latched onto the most obvious and logical answer. "The best thing to do right now is to search the houses. Some people likely ran inside to take cover. If there is any living person still in this area, they would be there. There's no need to look under any piles of rubble for if anyone was caught beneath it they would have been crushed. Besides, if anyone was trapped, they would have heard the horses arrive in Ragako and called out for help. The houses are where we should start. And remember, we shouldn't call out too loudly. As Gunter said, this area is a beacon for titans right now. If any are lurking nearly, we don't need to attract them to our position. We need to search quickly at all costs. Even though there are buildings around, they wouldn't serve us well if a titan came along. They're too short for us to gain much altitude on with our gear. And – we don't have much supplies, so constantly using gas to circle around a titan would put us in jeopardy."
"Armin's right." Mikasa agreed. "Let's start with the houses."
In understanding with the plan, the small group of recruits began to focus their efforts in search and rescue. Almost in silence, they scouted the homes and businesses of the southern part of Ragako. So far, the homes were providing nothing – their interiors only possessing torn apart furniture and messy attempts to retrieve belongings. Every so often they came across a body or two that was either crushed or just a fragment of a whole. One such individual had chosen the path of suicide, the man simply sitting with his gun still in hand and a hole blown through his head. They said barely anything to one another, only asking if they were all right or that they should move on to the next house. Connie was just silent.
Ever since their search began, Armin had let his mind roam. Something was eating away at him, not adding up. Connie's father had sent his children off to the next village before taking his wife across town to the stables. If the titans had attacked so suddenly, the village wouldn't have had a warning of any sort. How could Connie's parents have safely made it across town to the stables in time? Armin swallowed, no matter how much he wrapped his brain around the fact, the grim possibility that his friend had been wrong was looking more and more likely. He really hoped and prayed that Connie was right though.
Nearly ten minutes into their search, the recruits left another empty building that was barely recognizable as a dwelling – the residence holding nothing. Routinely, they headed to a neighboring structure that once had a complete porch and intact roof. A sign lay unreadable and broken in the rubble, flames slowly eating away at it. The ground was worn where the entrance was, suggesting that the place was previously frequented quite a bit. Connie cleared his throat.
"This was the town's tavern. Quite a lot of people came here so maybe some people were here when the attack happened." Connie explained as Jean pushed open the door – the wood creaking loudly.
"If anyone is here, I hope they are at least so –
Jean's words trailed off as they witnessed the interior of the tavern. It no longer looked like a place to get together to have a good drink. Armin pinched his nose at the stench. The one roomed bar was covered in slowly steaming saliva and what he could determine as pieces of a titan's stomach lining – the pink tissues draping over knocked over tables and broken bottles. The smell of titan vomit was among the worst odors to ever breach his nose – the smell like a mixture of decomposition, sick, and spoiled meat. He had witnessed Rogue's pellets which didn't smell as bad as those belonging to a normal titan's, but were foul nonetheless. In the room itself were two nearly perfectly round titan pellets, each several feet tall and full of human remains – bodies soaked in blood and half broken down by acid. Like the others around Ragako, the humans inside had frozen expressions of horror. The round pellets were highlighted by rays of the fading sun overhead; a titan obviously having regurgitated its meal upon the top of the building with the weight of the pellets making the roof cave beneath them. Armin's hand covered his mouth, trying his utmost hardest not to vomit. If he had a mirror before him, he could only guess that his face had flushed green.
"I don't think I'm ever going to get used to seeing these." Jean uttered, pinching his nose even more and looking absolutely pale. Armin knew what Jean really meant, knowing that the teen was cleaning up titan pellets when he came across Marco's body.
"Do you guys think anyone has ever survived?" Krista asked innocently. "Like – being eaten whole by a titan and then come out in one of its pellets alive?"
"Who knows for sure, but I do remember a story my dad used to tell me." Jean replied. "They say many years ago that a pregnant woman who was the leader of some kind of crazy cult that worshiped the titans was eaten by one of the bastards. When the titan passed its pellet, the woman was already dead, but her baby however survived." Jean paused. "I think they thought he was an actual titan for a while and called him the "Titan's Son" or something. I don't really know how the rest of it went or even if it's real or not though." The teen sighed. "I damn sure don't think anyone could survive a titan's stomach though if they were swallowed whole – the acids and heat alone would kill you. Then again, you don't see many titans swallow people whole – I think they just fancy chewing us up."
"Yeah." Mikasa began, Armin knowing very well what she was recalling. "You don't see them swallow them whole – they just bite and chew." She trailed off quietly, a few strands of her black hair falling over her face. "Well perhaps we should get on –
However, Mikasa stopped herself, eyes growing wider as she looked next to her. Confused at her sudden pause, Armin and the others looked over to see a petrified Connie. The young male was standing straight and stiff, looking at the second pellet with pupils the size of a pen tip. Connie's jaw quivered, and his breaths were rickety. The teen tried to speak, unable to get words out as his eyes began to shed tears. A massive knot grew in Armin's throat, a sense of queasiness filling him knowing that his hunch about the real truth was in fact true.
"M…mom…Dad?" Connie droned, eyes growing wider as he fell to his knees. "No. It – Mom! Dad!"
Armin felt himself growing sicker once again. Within the pellet were two people, a man and woman that were like the others, corroded from titan stomach acid and soaked in blood. Even though they were in a state of decay, they still bore a resemblance to Connie. They were his parents, faces fixed in looks of terror. The others standing in the tavern said nothing, simply watching as their fellow soldier broke down.
"No! This… why did this happen!" Connie exclaimed, squeezing his eyes shut. "Mom! D…ad!"
Armin hung his head, knowing the feeling of loss all too well. When his grandfather was crushed by rubble during the first breach, he was absolutely devastated. His grandpa was the only family member he had left after the death of his own parents that he was too young to remember. Now Connie was getting ready to experience the same thing – something that he wanted no one to ever go through. But he supposed that in this cruel world – it was a natural and common occurrence.
As Connie continued to grieve, Krista left her standing position as the first person to move. The small blonde knelt next to the teen and lightly touched his shoulder. "I'm so sorry Connie." The girl spoke softly, face somber and her usually bright blues dull with sorrow.
As he expected, Connie said nothing in reply. The young Scout only weeping softly. Minutes ticked by as Krista proceeded her acts of comfort by rubbing the boy's shoulder. Jean sighed heavily, Armin watching as he shot Mikasa a glance before looking at him. Silently Mikasa nodded, gripping her scarf. It wasn't hard to figure out what one another was thinking. Sticking around to morn was out of the question when the village was a ticking time bomb. Experiencing the sensation before, they knew that sticking around wasn't good for Connie's mentality.
Finally, Mikasa took a step forward, her face stoic and in a difficult to read expression – the very same that she had worn many years ago on the night that her own parents were murdered. The dark haired teen paused in her step, putting herself between Connie and the pellet to block his view. Armin then observed as she lowered herself to the male's level and placed a firm hand onto his unoccupied shoulder. "Connie?" Mikasa asked, her voice smooth but soft. "Connie?" At his name, Connie reluctantly opened his eyes, now bloodshot from tears – the teen wiping his nose. Seeing that she had his attention, Mikasa continued. "Connie, I'm – so sorry about your parents. I understand what you are going through for I experienced the same many years ago when those men killed my parents and when a titan devoured the Jaegers. Right now though, you have to be a soldier. Be strong. The situation is dire and there's no time to stop. Many Scouts lose their loved ones, but we reserve the best times to grieve." Mikasa finished gently, slowly standing back upright.
For what seemed almost like an eternity, Connie simply sat before letting out a shaky sigh and reaching up to wipe his face. "I… guess you're right Mikasa." He began as he gradually got to his feet. "Thank you. Thank you so much. I just hope that –
A sudden vibration shook the tavern, dust and dirt sprinkling down from what remained of the ceiling. Armin froze, his heart pounding as the thuds grew louder. This wasn't good.
"Shit!" Mikasa hastily whispered, quickly drawing her pairing blades, the others scrambling to press themselves against the wall.
The earth shook again, cavernous breaths growing louder, shaking his ribcage. Armin swallowed, a shiver running down his spine. A titan had arrived and was in search for a morsel to fill its gullet. The timing couldn't have been worse. The ground shook again, the sound of clanging and rattling bottles of brandy meeting their ears as the entire tavern quivered. A shadow descended over them, blocking out the sunlight that had once beamed in through the damaged roof. Saliva then descended into the room, creating a puddle onto the floor. Ever so slowly, Armin mustered the courage to look up. With blue eyes wide in fear the teen observed the underside of a large titan's chin, the creature thankfully not peering down into the room. The titan rumbled, sounding almost like a grotesque reptile with its neck vibrating and throat bobbing. Jean's hands snaked down to the hilts on his swords, the others in the room following his action. Armin gripped the handles to his blades tighter, his heart nearly leaping as the titan stopped over them. This was a horrible scenario. The way they were positioned wasn't ideal. If they ran out the door, they would immediately fall into the titan's line of sight. The squad couldn't fly out of the gap in the roof since the monster was directly over them. At the very thought of their lack of options, the hairs on his neck stood on end. He would have to conjure up an idea quickly.
"Fuck." Jean whispered in an irritated tone. "It's right over us and there's no way to get out without being seen."
His mind began to churn. "Let's hope that it's sense of smell is thrown off. I hate to say it, but I hope all of the blood confuses it. I also hope that there isn't any more of them. Unfortunately, though I think Nanaba and Gelgar would have noticed a titan this big and extinguished it. The fact that it's here means that they are likely having their own encounter on the north side."
"Oh no!" Krista ushered hastily, careful to keep her voice down. "How are we going to be able to escape and kill that titan? It will see us if we run out the front entrance."
"I'm working on it." Armin ensured, his eyes returning to watch the beast again, the titan sniffed, reminding him of a starved dog begging for scraps. Titan growled, shifting its weight in the slightest, but still not moving from its position. He knew. The beast had smelt a trace of their scent, but with all of the gore and sinew, it couldn't pinpoint their exact location.
"Shit! Shit!" Connie uttered, his mind clearly only focused on the enemy overhead despite the brutal blow that had been delivered to him only moments before. "We have to get out of here!"
Armin blinked, watching as the titan continued to look around but otherwise remain where it was standing. It became clear that they were not going to escape the tavern unnoticed. All they could do was just distract it for one moment so they could make a break for it. "Everyone." Armin began with their eyes immediately setting upon him. "I have an idea. But we have to be fast." He informed as he slid down the wall and picked up a lone bottle. "When this grabs the titan's attention, as soon as it does, we bolt outside through the tavern's exit."
"Alright. It's better than staying here and waiting to get eaten." Jean agreed. Armin nodded.
"Mikasa, if possible, this titan looks like it moves around on all fours. There's also a good chance that this one is an abnormal too. If you can, maneuver around it as soon as we get out and cut the nape. After we kill it, if we are still alive." He gulped. "Then we find our superiors."
"Sounds like a plan." His longtime friend acknowledged. "We'll follow your orders, Armin. Out of all of us, I think you're best suited to arrange formations for a plan of attack if needed."
Armin simply dipped his head, eyes narrowing in determination. "Remember, be aware that there may be more titans just outside." He spoke as he gripped the half empty bottle of alcohol even tighter and pulled his arm back in preparation. "Everyone ready?"
Without a single word, they nodded in unison, each of them getting onto their toes preparing to run. Armin inhaled and exhaled deeply, praying to himself that his plan would work. It had to. It was the only one that gave them a chance at surviving. Not wasting another second, the blonde aimed and threw the bottle – the unfinished drink landing right on the bar itself, the glass shattering into pieces and the liquid splashing over the cracked wood.
The titan above the tavern stalled, letting out a sharp grunt before quickly looking down into the cabin at the source of the clamor, the fresh Scouts catching a glimpse of the beast's red eyes before turning in the opposite direction and launching into a sprint.
At the sound of their pounding steps and their rattling gear, the titan turned its gaze to them with a snarl. The towering giant then let out an angry roar and plunged its head into the tavern, opening its jaws wide as it pushed itself toward them like a hound digging for moles. Armin continued to run, the others hot on his heels as he gripped his blades and aimed a cable right for the nearest and tallest structure. Pulling the triggers, he propelled himself out of the titan's reach and onto the rooftop, landing roughly but otherwise without a scratch. Jean, Connie, and Krista landed on other close by and intact buildings. Mikasa quickly and expertly swooped in a curve and pushed herself skyward, abet using a good amount of gas but achieving a height that would make for a good distance to dive in and strike. The titan itself was slowly lifting its head from the tavern, red eyes still searching the demolished structure, almost as if it was wondering how they had managed to squeeze out. Now that the titan was in clear view, Armin took in its appearance. The titan's eyes were indeed a ruby red, an uncommon color that could be considered rare. The beast had stringy and matted hair that draped down just past its chin – lips formed into a wide and malicious grin. Its body was lean, slightly muscular but with ribs still clear to view. As he had theorized, it was a quadrupedal titan, but it looked to be more than capable of getting on two legs if needed. Armin swallowed, abnormals like this were always a bit of a challenge. He hated that Rogue wasn't with them, their titan friend could easily slam his foot down on the nape of the beast afore them.
Mikasa then began her decent, gas propelling her faster with the teen's swords poised. She was right on target. She could kill the monster easily. Suddenly, the beast's red eyes shifted, its nostrils flaring wildly. Armin's heart skipped a beat, seeing that its sights were now locked onto their small group. Before Mikasa could make the fatal blow, the abnormal charged with a screech, pulling Mikasa harshly along with the teen dislodging her cables as fast as possible. Thinking quickly, Armin and the others pulled their triggers to launch themselves into the air seconds before the titan's face crashed into the edifices. Splintering wood and bricks showered in all directions, the creature quickly lifting itself up in search of them again. Regrouping on a rooftop, Armin knew that this titan was going to be hell. There was only one way to take care of a beast that moved quickly like so in such terrain. It would take a lot of gas depending on how long it would take to stop it, but it was all they could do. This titan would certainly follow them if they retreated.
"I hate to say this but we're going to have to distract it while we slice away its tendons. Jean and Connie, you two go for the tendons in its heels, wrapping yourselves so you get a good angle before cutting out the tendons while Krista and I," Armin hesitated, knowing he was giving himself one of the most frightening and risky parts of the job. "Krista and I will distract it by weaving through the district. Mikasa, you follow close behind it and then hit the nape just after I give the orders for Jean and Connie to make the cut. Don't attach yourself to it for we can't have it pulling your cables beyond use if it keeps charging forward like that. You can't lose your cables before you run out of gas. Ready?"
"Understood!" They replied to his declaration while the titan prowled towards them again, it's movement almost cat like. Swallowing his trepidation, Armin signaled Krista to follow him in a dive off the roof before sailing forward, flashing by the creature's face with the titan looking at them like one would a fly, the beast nearly galloping to make chase. Armin then watched as Jean and Connie began to follow his orders, diving from the rooftop and soaring just behind the titan's rear with Mikasa following soon after. Armin gulped again, his heart pounding as he and Krista pushed themselves forward. The beast was fast, bones likely lightened in order to gain ground on them. He decided that he should end things just as quickly as they started.
Looking over his shoulder to check if the others were on the same page, he spied that Connie and Jean had barely managed to secure themselves to the backs of the beast's ankles, but were otherwise more than ready. Mikasa as well had her blades drawn. Nodding to himself, the teen looked over to the small blonde only to see her looking back at him, eyes fearful, but otherwise asking if they should proceed with the next step. "Alright Krista, NOW!" He shouted over the titan's thundering footsteps. Like when he trained so much with Rogue, Armin looked over his shoulder at the hungry beast and aimed a grapple into the flesh of the titan's shoulder with Krista doing the same. Thinking quickly, Armin then released his triggers, stopping the flow of gas, leaving he and Krista suspended midair – the titan moving faster than ever toward them. Quickly bringing his legs over his head, guiding himself upside down, Armin pulled his triggers again, both he and Krista rocketing backwards and safely past the titan's head, the teen nearly smiling to himself at their success. Just before the beast could slow to a stop and turn in search of them again, Jean and Connie dug their blades deep into the titan's tough flesh, blood spraying and the abnormal howling in agony as its tendons were severed. The abnormal stalled and Mikasa went in for the kill.
Of course, battling abnormals was always unpredictable.
Without warning, the titan reared backwards to stand upon its knees – completely ignoring its damaged ankles. The beast then turned towards Mikasa, roaring and holding its arms up like a bear, its hands swatting oddly but effectively at the raven-haired girl – Mikasa narrowly avoiding the advancement. With its crimson eyes following her, the titan shifted, walking upon its knees and constantly twisting, not giving Mikasa a clear shot at its nape. Quickly thinking, Armin turned to Jean knowing he was the second best at maneuvering, waving his arms to gain his attention. "Jean! Go for the nape! I'll cut behind its knees!" He yelled watching as Jean nodded in confirmation before he ascended. Armin then swallowed, turning to Connie who still appeared stunned by the whole event. "Connie, back me up." He asked with the teen agreeing.
With a deep breath, Armin focused – secretly praying that his execution would work. Knowing that he was wasting time upon the rooftop, the blonde then sprang forward, hooking his cables just so – the placement just right for him to sail straight across the street and right over the back of the creature's knees. As the beast continued to swipe at Mikasa and Jean tried to curve around the bulk of the titan, Armin propelled himself forward with his pairing blades lowered and crossed like he had been trained to do. Metal then bore into meat once again, the force rattling Armin's arms as he passed over the back of the beast's knees. Steam and blood met his face, the male closing his eyes in an attempt to repel it as he landed upon an adjacent wall. Armin quickly rotated his head to observe his work – only to find that he hadn't cut deep enough for the impairment to be effective. However, Connie had been right behind him – the teen performing the very same move but succeeding in what he failed to achieve, the titan halting its movements to fall forward onto its hands. Although Connie was short just like he was, the boy had a bit more muscle mass. Armin didn't mind the fact that he didn't have the bulk that most boys did. He supposed that his mind made up for it.
At the deep gash now carved behind the beast's knees and the creature struggling to get up, Jean was able to finally make his move. With his face pulled into a snarl, the male dove for the kill like a falcon with its talons ready to grip and carve into flesh. The titan let out a final shriek as its nape was cut free, the monster falling back to the earth with the ground quivering from impact. Armin sighed in relief. They had done it.
He then lowered himself from the wall and back onto the blood stained walk. Connie and Krista tried to catch their breaths while Jean and Mikasa landed to join them, the pair breathing rapidly as well.
"Thank god we were able to get that son of a bitch." Connie exhaled. "I was getting worried for a second."
"Yeah," Armin breathed. "Good work you guys."
Jean smiled in the slightest. "Honestly, I'm glad you were here at least, Armin. From what I remember, those that walk around on four legs are tricky to approach. After seeing how it could move, I'm glad we didn't rush it." He chuckled in the slightest. "Armin, I have no idea how you come up with strategies so quickly. By the time I would have, there was a good chance that the titan could have s –
The teen couldn't finish his sentence as another vibration shook their party to their cores. The scenery quaked as another titan emerged into their view. Armin's heart pounded. It was a twelve meter with a grin just as wicked as the previous beast. Inwardly, he began to panic knowing that he used quite a lot of his limited gas supply. Quickly, his mind began to think in an attempt to conjure up a second strategy. They would have to take care of it quickly.
The behemoth then took a step forward, but just as it did, the ever familiar whirling of gears met his ears. Lifting his gaze, his bright blue pools caught sight of Nanaba – the veteran moving in nearly a blur as she cut away the creature's nape.
"You kids alright?" Gelgar approached them, stowing away his dulled blades as the second titan fell.
"Yeah." Armin studied the man, making note of his stressed features and alarmed eyes, giving away the indication that he and Nanaba had engaged in combat just as he thought. "We're fine."
"That's good." Nanaba began as she motioned to stand with their rattled group. "Did you find any survivors?"
For a moment, Armin found himself unable to speak, his eyes looking over to briefly observe Connie peer down at his feet before Mikasa cleared her throat.
"No. There was no survivors." She paused, biting her lip likely at the thought of how Connie's parents were discovered. "We'll explain later." She sighed, trying to discreetly get through to the two older Scouts that it was a subject that was best disclosed privately or later. Much to Armin's relief, the pair understood what Mikasa was trying to convey.
"Alright." Nanaba paused, putting away her blades. "We encountered three titans plus the two that you did, they are probably stragglers that were attracted by the smell of blood here – meaning more are likely on their way to investigate. We must do the obvious. We need to get out of here. Before we do though, how low on supplies are you?"
Armin gulped as he and the others directed their attention to their gas canisters. The tanks were light – meaning that he was practically on empty. If he tried to use his gear, he would be running on fumes. "I'm nearly out of gas." He admitted.
"Yeah, me too."
"After that abnormal I think pretty much all of us depleted more than half our fuel." Jean announced with Nanaba nodding with consideration.
"We have some, probably a little less than half. With this in mind, we are going to have to resort to Plan B."
"Plan B?" Krista asked. Gelgar dipped his head.
"Yes. Instead of us risking everything in trying to reach Ehrmich district, we are going to head to Castle Utgaard which is about six miles from here. Castle Utgaard was once Scouting Legion Headquarters for this portion of the wall many decades ago. It hasn't been in use for years, but it's the safest place to wait until morning. Even though we could move towards Ehrmich at night, our horses have been worn from the trip here and need rest. To put it bluntly, we are staying the evening at Castle Utgaard until the main Scouting Party comes to our aid. Erwin knows to check there after the wall is mended tomorrow. We can't risk our enemy finding out where we are."
Armin and the other recruits nodded in understanding. Nanaba then whistled for her horse with each of them following her actions. The woman sighed.
"Still, you must all keep on your toes and alert. With the information we have, we must prepare for the unexpected."
Everything was bathed in soft moonlight, the giant white orb in the heavens full and on clear display. It highlighted his exposed skin in an almost blueish tone and traced over the rooftops of the buildings of Ehrmich district. Rogue sat alone inside the courtyard of the Garrison Headquarters, keeping to himself with his legs folded neatly afore him. The courtyard was quite different than that of his family's headquarters. The Garrison piazza was completely enclosed, surrounded by a grand stone building that made the area absolutely private and seemingly far removed from the rest of the district. The ground was also made up of cobblestone with no overgrown gardens like that he knew. The entire courtyard was lit by several small torches upon the walls and a large freestanding one that was located nearly in the center. Around the edges were weapons ready to be used or packed supplies to be loaded in the following morning.
Rogue shifted impatiently in his seated position, feeling on edge. They had arrived just a few hours before and long after the sky turned black as ink. Immediately, his family had placed him in the courtyard with the message that he was to keep fairly quiet and on standby for any possible orders. Levi had also shared with him that this was where he was to spend his evening as well. Rogue blinked, not feeling up for rest as he looked away from the gleaming moon and across the courtyard. Hange and Erwin were eating a late but well deserved meal. What was left of Levi's tea was seated next to them, the short man absent for his sudden need to 'take a shit' as he often said. The Commander and Hange weren't saying much and exchanged very little words as they ate.
The titan's ear flickered, swatting away a cumbersome moth as he looked to his far left to one of the only two entrances of the courtyard. The archway led to what appeared to be a small mess hall of sorts before it opened to the street outside. Rogue only observed one thing: the many frightened residents of Ehrmich evacuating the district. His heart quickly grew heavy at the sight. They all had solemn or panicked faces – some mates even dragging their crying children along. It was heartbreaking not to mention it brought back bad memories. Rogue shook his head to try and rid the paralyzing image of the first breach off his mind, but was ultimately unsuccessful with his queries and thoughts about their current situation.
The titan's green eyes drifted to his hands placed in his lap. He had only spoken to Erwin once on their trek, simply to apologize for his actions. However, he didn't ask any other query. Erwin had to have a good reason as to why he chose to do things in such a way. After having quite a decent time to think to himself, Rogue guessed it was because it would be more logical to keep him on standby. After all, they couldn't possibly know the Armored Titan's movements. With other titans around, the beast would be difficult for them to track. Of course, another thought was stuck upon his mind. The Armored could very well be after a morsel just like any other titan, but he wondered. Could that monster really be with the female? If so, why were they after his so called 'alpha status' as the Scouts had called it?
Rogue shook his head yet again, blowing out a cloud of steam – his mind getting mixed up and confused. Inwardly, he cursed his intelligence but quickly calmed and moved onto another subject in fear that he would draw his superiors' attention away from important matters they were likely discussing. A cry of a young child drew his attention back to the evacuating crowd, his heart sinking. His little ones were the other reason as to why he was so uncomfortable. He prayed to whatever god that existed that they were safe and not in the belly or pellet of one of his kin. Ever since he had departed from home, he couldn't stop thinking about them or silence his worries. Hopefully they would be back any second on their horses with Mike, Nanaba, Gelgar, and the other recruits in tow. Still, it had been an awfully long time since darkness had fallen and the other titans had retired for the evening.
Rogue swallowed, he wouldn't know what to do with himself if he had lost one of his precious babies.
The titan exhaled, taking his attention away from the fleeing humans and placing his focus onto one of the many unarmed cannons that sat in a row in preparation to be loaded onto one of the many wagons come morning. Perhaps trying to find some way to entertain himself would calm his nerves. Making sure that no one was paying too much attention, Rogue lifted a finger to the large iron cannon. With a delicate touch, he rolled it towards him, the wooden wheels it sat upon creaking in protest. Checking once more for wandering eyes, Rogue then proceeded to roll the cannon back and forth before him – eyes hooked to the moving object. However, it was really just nervous fidgeting that he was doing more than anything. Watching the wheels rotate, ears twitching, he could only hope to hear the hoof beats of his little ones' horses. He continued his attempt at distracting himself, a sudden instinct sparking throughout his brain – one related to amusement and play. Rogue's pupils dilated, making his eyes nearly black as he started to bat the cannon to and fro even faster with both hands – the titan looking like a large cat. Rogue produced a quiet and high pitched humming, letting himself drift into his own world, unaware that the rattling of the moving cannon had alerted some as to what he was doing.
"Rogue? What are you doing, Sweetheart?"
Upon hearing Hange's voice, the titan jolted – nearly knocking the cannon over as he returned to reality, all his worries and fears flowing back to him. Rogue swallowed, his head lowering as he turned to look bashfully upon Hange, feeling completely mortified. "EEEZINGG NNERRVVS." Rogue explained pitifully, feeling his cheeks heat up further in embarrassment.
Hange smiled tenderly, placing her hands onto her hips as she looked at him cunningly. "I see that my lovely titan!" The woman chuckled, reaching up to pat his knee in a gesture of encouragement. "I know your nervous Rogue, in fact all of us are." Hange continued, her voice at a normal tone of volume for once. "Of course, you probably shouldn't play with the cannons." She gestured to the heavy weapon, the titan taking note that the iron piece was now sitting oddly on its mount, making him feel more sheepish – his shoulders slouching. "We kind of need those for tomorrow. When I'm nervous, I always take deep breaths and –
"Shitty Glasses, please don't tell me you're trying to give him an educating lecture. All you do is make him paranoid."
Rogue lifted his head, seeing Levi approach them with his ever present scowl on his face and arms folded over his chest. The titan was a bit glad the man was done with his business, perhaps he could get some information from him.
Hange looked on at The Corporal defiantly, shifting her weight onto one foot. "Oh Levi, there's no way I've ever make him pa –
"Please, one of the best bad examples was back when you held the outdoor sexual education lesson. Your dumb ass let Rogue sit for the duration of the reproduction process. Hange, that night he dreamt that he was pregnant and it took me as well as everyone else five hours to convince him that it was a god damn nightmare. Plus, as I said yesterday, he kept trying to ask everyone what the third leg was." Levi counted, making Rogue's face heat up further in embarrassment. "Now, don't get me started on you explaining the concept of April Fool's day to Rogue." He eyed her dangerously. "Thanks to your big mouth, that is now my least favorite holiday of the year."
Hange cackled. "Hey, you have to admit, Rogue hiding your laundry and purposely slobbering on you to make more laundry was funny, Levi!"
The man sighed heavily in irritation. "I'm pretty sure it wasn't. Anyway, as for what I was originally going to ask, were there any new developments?"
With all the joking aside, Hange pondered, glancing back at Erwin speaking with other military officials. "Well, all I've heard is that some citizens from Dauper survived and are almost here. Other than that, nothing much."
Rogue's brows lifted in alarm. What about his little ones and the rest of his squad mates? "BAAIIBEESS?" The titan asked, his voice catching in his throat. Hearing his desperate question Hange quickly turned to him, wearing another warm smile.
"Don't you worry my titan! I'm positive Armin, Mikasa, and the others are all safe and sound! After all, they are with Mike, Nanaba, and Gelgar! I think you'll be seeing them soon!" She stroked his knee, giving it a promising pat. "So don't you worry!"
He beamed feebly in return, bending over to press his nose into her. Hopefully she was right. Lifting his head again, Rogue then turned to Levi – wanting nothing but answers. "EVVI?" The titan began, the short statured man shifting his gaze to the behemoth.
The titan found himself biting his tongue, trying to figure out how to word his query. "WHHII EII… WHII EIII HERRRE?" Rogue asked, hoping that The Corporal could answer him.
Levi exhaled through his nose. "It's a bit obvious and I'm surprised that you haven't figured it out. Erwin and I were discussing things on our way here and we were able to definitely rule out the possibility that this is just an extermination. In fact, the hypothesis about the Armored and Colossal having relations to the Female is all but true at this point. However, we are considering that there is something about Rogue that makes him unique which is likely this alpha like control he has. The attacks done previously were obviously planned. Think about it. If those two bastards broke through the wall the first time with the intention of devouring the last of the human race, they would have broken through all three of them at once."
"But," Hange cut in. "Perhaps they could have done it to conserve on the food source, that way they could have morsels for then and more for later –
"Impossible. The two deviants broke through the walls the first time, probably with the plan to draw Rogue out of hiding and to see if he was even inside the walls. The advancement stopped and a few years passed. That was 845. In 850, The Armored Titan broke through Trost but went no further – indicating that they were trying to flush Rogue out of hiding after discovering traces of him perhaps in Wall Maria." Levi paused with both the titan and Hange's brows raising. "The Female Titan's appearance is what really supports this. Compared to those two bastards, she was perfect for combat and the ideal hunter to track and capture Rogue. Now, here they are again going for another attempt. As far as we know, the Armored hasn't left Wall Rose yet, meaning this is a desperate attempt and they don't want to leave empty handed. We brought Rogue here not only for him to help us, but to hide him. Rogue is here so we can keep him well concealed and discourage those two deviants. It's painfully clear that The Armored is stronger than him and we can't afford to lose Rogue. It gives us time to also gather our heaviest artillery for when we have to fight that beast. Rogue is only to be used as a last resort. Not to mention, you are also here because we can't count on you having any ability to harden as well."
Rogue's breath hitched in his chest, feeling utterly ignorant that he hadn't been able to see the truth before – likely because of his nerves. They WERE looking for him! His brows wrinkled. Why? Why was he that important though? With his head now clearer, it didn't make any sense. Why him in particular? Surely, there were more alphas that his superiors described! Was there something more with him? Not only that, but it stressed him out even further that if they couldn't take out The Armored One, he would have to. Like Levi had stated, he knew he wasn't as powerful as the terrible creature. With no know how of his own ability, he felt even more distressed.
"That is – enlightening." Hange trailed off, rubbing her chin. "It makes me wonder exactly WHY they want Rogue so badly and why they were willing to even take him alive nonetheless. Could there possibly be something more to his abilities? Maybe more to him or his breed even? One thing is for sure, we are missing valuable pieces to the puzzle here. Maybe there's even more to the meaning of coordinate that we know." The fatigued woman sighed. "I wish there was a way that we could jog his memory. I bet Rogue's past would explain all of this."
Rogue only lowered his head, grunting in agreement – now feeling utterly guilty and useless. It seemed to be silent for an eternity, the only word having been a curse from The Corporal. Finally, the man cleared his throat.
"We'll likely never know for sure. I don't care what's going on until we kill those bastards to end this charade." Levi shifted his gaze to him. "By the way brat, I'm surprised that you're not snoozing like a baby yet. You are usually out by ten and here it's almost midnight and you're still kicking. You don't even look the least bit tired."
The titan's spine straightened, head tilting back in consideration – greens looking to the moon overhead. "YEAAH. EII… GUESSSS NYY NEERVVS ARR KEEPINNN NEE UPP." Rogue reached to scratch his scalp, shrugging his broad shoulders before looking back to the two higher ups.
"Well, Rogue sweetheart perhaps you should just try and relax with some deep breaths to help you unwind – tomorrow is going to be a big –
"What in the hell is that asshole doing here?"
Rogue looked to the short male in surprise, both he and Hange observing The Corporal's hard and icy glare in the direction of the entrance, quickly following it to see who the titan had not expected.
The religious, rude, and crazed man as he had the unfortunate pleasure of knowing was standing with his back turned toward them. The pastor appeared to be watching the evacuating citizens. Rogue leaned forward, eyes narrowing not in disgust but in confusion. Why was Nick here of all people? Didn't he reside in Sina? Why would he be here in Ehrmich district? The goliath studied the man further. His stance was much different than he remembered, it was more imposing the last time he had met the man. Now it was almost shaky – he could practically see the man quivering beneath his robes. Rogue swallowed. What was Nick's purpose for being present?
Rogue watched as Erwin quickly noticed the man and strode over to him, placing a hand onto the pastor's shoulder and starling the individual. The titan watched them exchange a few words, unable to make out anything due to Levi's grumbling. The giant blinked in confusion, watching as Erwin guided the priest to their group. The titan swallowed, mentally preparing for the sticks and stones coming his way.
"So, what the hell are you doing here Pastor Nick?" Levi asked bluntly, looking absolutely unamused.
The man's face wrinkled up in disgust. "The nerve of you to ask what I'm doing here!" Nick growled. "Because of that." He pointed to Rogue, finger shaking. "Because of that unholy beast! The church and its followers had to remove ourselves from Sina and relocate here because of your titan's doings – landing upon sacred ground and causing enough bloodshed to feed the devil himself!" Nick narrowed his eyes, looking at their party fiercely. "Now, because of him, those monsters are back and they will wipe us all out. Your titan is better off dead!"
Rogue's breath hitched, heart nearly stopping at the man's statement. His superiors looked upon Nick who was breathing hard and trying to calm from his outburst. The words reverberated and repeated themselves in his head – the titan catching something that peaked his interest. Why would Nick say something of the sort, unless the man -
"Hold on." Levi began again, the male's brows bunching together, eyes almost having a dangerous glint ignited in them. "You – you know something don't you?"
The titan could practically feel a layer of tension drift over them as the priest's face practically fell – eyes immediately adverting else ware. Rogue watched the man's face tint red, the change in hue clear in the firelight. Nick's jaw clenched, the man's fists coiling. He could only breath and stare upon them. Was it really possible that Nick knew what was going on? Did he know something about himself that he didn't?
Erwin cleared his throat, breaking the long silence. "Judging by your body language, I'd say that you are very aware of whatever is going on here." The Commander spoke deeply and seriously. "In fact, I think it's the reason why you are here. Clearly, you have been keeping some amount of knowledge from us and that information makes you certain that Rogue Jaeger should be dead."
"Listen!" The man hissed. "You are all ignorant! Foolish and unenlightened! You have no idea the magnitude as to what is happening here!"
Silence met and embraced the group yet again. There was also confusion infecting each of them. Hange's eyes were the widest he had ever seen them, Erwin's gaze grew more intense, and Levi looked nothing like his usual constipated appearing self. Rogue felt nothing, nothing but his jaw hanging hallway open and quivering. The titan's pupils had shrunk, ears pressed to his skull, and for the first time in his life – he felt his skin infest with goosebumps.
What the hell was going on.
What the hell was happening.
The titan nearly jumped at the voice, the familiar tone pulling him out of his numb state. Sasha hastily entered the courtyard, the teen out of breath and looking worn. The girl ungracefully hopped down from her horse – the deprived steed racing for the nearest water troth while Sasha quickly and messily saluted. Rogue's nerves fired off again, his heart lifting higher into his tight chest. Sasha. The teenager had returned alone. His little ones were not with her nor was the others. His heart started to pound. What had happened! Where were his babies?"
"Blouse?" Erwin began. "You're alone? What happened?"
"Sir! Near the beginning of our mission we decided to split into two teams due to an abundance of abnormal titans. Mike branched off to buy us time while our team split up to investigate Ragako and Dauper. I along with Lynn and Henning headed to my hometown, Sir! Lynn and Henning investigated another nearby village while I went home." Sasha paused, taking a deep breath. "Commander, several citizens of Dauper witnessed The Armored Titan invade the village! It is as we thought! The Armored Titan is searching for Rogue!"
Rogue watched collectively as each of the veteran Scouts' brows rose. The Armored One! He was looking for him!
"Give us the details. Tell us everything you were able to gather." Levi demanded. "Don't leave anything out."
"Sir! They stated that like Rogue and The Female Titan – The Armored could speak." Sasha continued, the titan as well as the other Scouts present going rigid.
"What did he say!" Hange demanded, suddenly much more intense than her casual appearance before.
Sasha swallowed, Rogue watched her eyes glance nervously at him before setting themselves on her superiors again. "He didn't say much. He asked only one question according to the villagers. I'm saying this in his exact words. The Armored Titan asked them 'where the traitorous green eyed titan was' he said that and that is all the villagers remember, Sir."
It was then quiet again, Hange, Erwin, and Levi looking absolutely pale in the moonlight. Rogue could feel the color drain from his face as well. Only one word struck him and was clearer than all others. It was a word meaning to deceive, and that word made him grow even more paranoid. 'NO. HOW… HOW COULD…'
"A – traitor?" Hange uttered, her words quiet. "How… what is –
Levi looked absolutely disturbed. "What in the hell is going on… what on earth did Rogue –
Suddenly, Hange twisted around with the titan catching a glimpse of her face – the woman having a snarl like a wild animal and her eyes burning with anger. As long as he had seen and lived with the Scouts, Rogue had never witnessed Hange furious. Never. The Section Commander's hands gripped around the collar of Pastor Nick's tunic and violently pulled the man toward her to where her face was mere inches from him.
"Now." Hange began darkly. "You better tell us everything you know or you better pray to whatever god you believe in right now or so help me." She nearly growled, almost speaking through her teeth.
Nothing could be heard except for the crackling of ashes in torches. Nothing else in the world seemed to exist except for he and five humans before him. The priest struggled, pitifully trying to squirm against Hange's relentless hold. Minutes seemed to pass, but were mere seconds. Suddenly, Nick stopped his fruitless act of trying to free himself from the trap that he was currently in. The man sighed, hanging his head in utmost shame.
"Alright. I'll – talk." Nick uttered with Hange abruptly dropping him with the man landing in an embarrassing heap upon the ground.
"Since you've complied, I encourage that you tell the truth or risk being prosecuted for treason." Erwin spoke bluntly, the man's face having no hint of humor in it.
The titan watched Nick pick himself up and brush off his cloak. The priest stood, looking almost broken with his gaze lowered to Hange's shoes as if he were a child caught in a lie. The man sighed yet again before finally lifting his gaze to them. "The royal family of the walls sometimes entrusts the church to carry and guard their secrets. Before I continue, I must point out that I don't know much about this particular secret myself. In fact, I know next to nothing. Over the decades, information gets lost or dies along with its members. All I can really say and all that I really know is that Fritz is a puppet of the real royal family. The real royal family's name is Reiss. The royal family… has knowledge about a very powerful weapon, a powerful entity of sorts that can be used to rule against the titans and even humanity itself. The Reiss have hidden themselves away for this very reason. They have very little contact with citizens within the walls and none with the government whatsoever. However, fifteen years ago – a bastard child was born from Reiss blood and from a simple house maiden. That child was raised in secret until her existence was leaked. Five years ago, the church was entrusted to hide the child – she was enlisted into the Cadets and joined the Scout regiment as of this year."
Hange gasped. "The child is one of our new recruits then? Who is it!" She demanded, grabbing the man's collar again.
"The child," Nick struggled through Hange's grip. "She may not know everything and she could know nothing. She has eyes as blue as the heavens and hair as golden as the sun."
Rogue's eyes widened as the realization came to him. "KRRSSA." He spoke up, his superiors looking to him with Levi's brows narrowing further.
"Krista Lenz." The man clarified. "So Lenz is this child. A Reiss – someone of royal blood that can help us with this so called secret. Now, tell us this girl's true name as well as what Rogue has got to do with all of this."
A bead of sweat ran down the man's brow. "I nor the church was not told her true name. Your titan – is likely the very one that has knowledge of this ancient power. The Reiss child could be the key to discovering it. This is all I know and this is all I have to tell you." Nick closed his eyes and lifted his head strongly. "Dear goddesses, please forgive me for my sins for disclosing what should not have been said."
Rogue let his hand drift to his chest as if he could slow his rapidly beating heart. He felt as if he had just been hit with a cannonball to the head. So, Krista was actually someone of great importance and he – was supposed to have the facts on a weapon that could dominate the titans? How? How could he know that! According to everyone, he had lost nearly all of his memories with few resurfacing. How could Krista, or whatever her real name was, help him quickly recall the answer? His hand snaked to his head, feeling absolutely disoriented. Not only this, but The Armored One had called him a traitor. He was so confused. Dr. Jaeger did say that he could be the key, put onto the godforsaken earth for a purpose. Rogue inhaled sharply before exhaling shakenly. What on earth happened to him before he woke up in Maria?
"So, somewhere in Rogue's memories – is knowledge of a very powerful weapon that can be used against the titans?" Levi began, looking at Rogue with suspicion and clearly in deep thought.
"Actually," Hange began – her voice serious and firm. "I have a theory that makes more sense."
"What is it Hange?" Erwin questioned, still looking as concentrated as he was before.
"The Reiss know of a powerful weapon or entity that Rogue could possibly have knowledge of as well. The Armored, Colossal, and The Female knew of this. What if, this entity actually IS Rogue? It would give the titans a reason to go after him. Not only that, but The Female Titan called Rogue 'Coordinate' which is a word that means to order."
"Hold on." The Corporal interrupted. "Are you saying – that this big brat, is some sort of fucking titan king?"
Hange sighed. "It's plausible, yes. Of course, I could be wrong entirely. We don't have all the facts yet so nothing is set in stone. Our first order of business after this current issue is dealt with, is to question Krista and see what knowledge she has of this. She must know something. Until then, we have to make do with what we have and find other possibilities. Even though," Hange's eyes drifted up to look at his own. "It's certain that Rogue is much more special than anyone originally thought."
Rogue simply sat, completely bewildered. Was he really –
"Hange, you may very well be right. However, we need to focus on finishing up with the supplies and Rogue needs rest. We'll try to figure this mess out in the morning." The Commander concluded, glancing at the towering beast once before walking off towards the entrance of the courtyard.
"Erwin is right." Levi sighed. "As enlightening as this is, we just need to focus on what needs to be done to take out The Armored Titan. So let's finish up and get some rest. If Nanaba, Gelgar, and Mike's team isn't back tonight it is likely that they are staying at a safe point for the evening. I know you're overwhelmed brat, but get some rest. Things are going to be critical tomorrow."
Rogue only nodded meekly, only knowing that even if he felt tired enough to sleep – he couldn't even if he tried.
Stars hung overhead, covering their party with a glittering blanket. The full moon was high in the sky, lighting the way and highlighting an old castle tower just up ahead. Armin sighed. It was calm, the night reassuring. They had left Ragako just in time, slipping past other titans that could be seen at a distance heading for the village in hope of finding a late meal. Since then, they had encountered no other enemies. He glanced up from his horse's mane to look upon the rest of his squad members. No one had said a single word since leaving the massacre, not even to Connie in fear that they would send the teen into a state of pure misery. Armin's gaze lowered again. Deep down, Connie was most likely going through hell. Armin sighed. He was also fighting hunger pains and fatigue. He was just physically and emotionally tired.
"Alright, we're here." Nanaba began. "It may not look like much, but this is Castle Utgaard."
Armin, blinked, not realizing that they had arrived. Just as Nanaba had informed earlier, the castle wasn't much to look at. In fact, it could have been classified as nothing but ruins. It wasn't impressive by any means whatsoever. The castle only had two lone towers, one wider than the other. Each were connected to various flat roofed stone structures, overall – the place looked to have been more like a fortress at one point than a castle for a noble family. Armin dismounted his horse along with the others as they entered a messy and debilitated courtyard of sorts. Stones were cracked and overgrown with ivy. To his right there was an old and dated stable with an empty water troth and hay that had already served its purpose. Armin spotted and old insignia upon a torn flag – the old wings of freedom crest, one that wasn't a simple graphic but rather resembled an actual pair of wings. A few old and rusty cannons lay in pieces and the remains of what was a well lay buried by leaves in the courtyard's center. It was very clear that Castle Utgaard hadn't seen a single visitor in years.
The blonde sighed as he guided his equine to stand with the others, tying it against a nearly rotten wood post. Gelgar then approached a pump with the intention of gifting the horses with much needed water. Pushing down on the handle, the pump groaned and gurgled before reddish water messily spilled out, everyone watching the russet color turn to more drinkable clear water that the horses immediately began to drink – exhausted from the day's chaos.
"Damn, I'm surprised that even worked." Gelgar wiped his hands on an old cloth that he had taken from his saddle. "It's amazing the pipes aren't rusted. I was getting worried for a second. All of the hay is obviously gone, so I'll try to look around for some feed here in a minute. If I don't come across any, the horses may have to wait until tomorrow unfortunately. They will just have to feed on the grass." The man spoke as he entered a small shed neighboring the stables.
"It would be a miracle if you did. This place has, like I said before, been empty for decades. As far as we know, a family of nobles built this place over a hundred years ago before it was ceased by the bank and then sold to the Scouts to use as headquarters. That was over seventy years ago. After this place was used for almost ten years, the Scouts moved to where headquarters is now. It's still owned by us, but there's been no need to use it in the last sixty years." Nanaba explained. "Of course, I don't know if there is much as far as food stored here, even though the place has been locked, thieves could have gotten in." The woman stretched. "There should be supplies like gas here or at least the more primitive version that's ice burst stone." She continued to explain, Armin recalling his classes in the Cadets where there was a brief discussion of ice burst stone which was a raw mineral that emitted an abundance of cold natural gasses that had been previously used to power their gear. "I'm not sure if any pairing blades we find will be compatible with our current gear either. Well, we best be –
However, Nanaba was interrupted by two more sets of hooves. Alarmed by the sudden visitors, the squad turned to see a worn looking Lynn and Henning approaching.
Sasha however was nowhere to be seen.
"Where's Sasha?" Connie blurted out before he himself or the others had a chance to ask. Armin felt his nerves fire off again. Could something have happened when she was visiting her hometown?
"Relax." Henning sighed, wearing an easy smile. "We spotted her riding with her father and the surviving citizens of Dauper to Ehrmich district. She's fine and giving them an escort and likely reporting our actions." The man said as the pair dismounted and brought their tired steeds to the water troth to join the others.
"I take it you guys don't have much supplies either." Lynn observed with Mikasa nodding to confirm.
"Yes, when we were in Ragako there were some abnormals that were attracted by the scent of blood there."
Henning's face dropped into a more solemn expression. "I take it that things weren't good. Were there any survivors?"
At the man's innocent query, Armin glanced over at Connie to see the teen looking at nothing in particular with a troubled and sad gaze, the male not saying a single word. "No, it wasn't good." Armin replied quietly. "We don't know how many people were able to evacuate." He was too fearful to include the fates of his friend's family. It was probably something that Connie should disclose to them anyway.
"That's a shame." Henning lowered his head, saying nothing more as Gelgar managed to find a single bag of old horse feed and give it to the tired equines. Nanaba then sighed yet again.
"Alright let's go inside and see if we can get something to eat and rest up. It's going to be quite the day tomorrow."
Armin stirred his spoon, listening to the sound the metal fork made against the aluminum can full of beans. It wasn't his favorite food, but since he was starving he had nearly devoured the entire contents of the can within minutes. Even still, his stomach begged for more. He was just as hungry as any titan.
Their squad had settled within the largest tower on the second floor. Inside, the castle was just as bland as the outside with no ornate finishes or anything of the sort. Around them were circular walls of nothing but stone with the exemption of spiraling stairs leading up to higher levels of the tower and two doors off to Armin's left – one being a small kitchen having nothing but cans of beans, olives, and outdated military rations. The other room was an old wine cellar that had been raided long ago with wine barrels too rusty to give whatever bounty they had. They had made themselves a small fire in the center of the room, the smoke exiting out several high windows. Everyone was seated around the fire all except for Lynn and Henning who had volunteered to go to the tower's top to keep watch along with Gelgar who was rummaging around the wine cellar in a desperate search of anything he could drink. Armin sighed, lifting another spoonful to his mouth, his blue eyes drifting onto the others. Nanaba was leaning against the wall, her eyes shut in what appeared to be a light sleep. Krista was stirring up her olives and trying to remove any pits while Jean ate his beans just as fast as he himself did. Connie ate his beans slowly, eyes simply looking at the small black pods. The teen would sigh heavily every once in a while, shoulders sinking. It was clear that what had occurred at Ragako was weighing heavily upon his mind now that they had settled. Armin was actually surprised that Connie hadn't retreated to be alone for some time to mourn. From knowing loss himself as well as observing others like Rogue, some people preferred to be alone while the rare few wanted to be with friends or family. Armin bit his lip, he didn't know how exactly to address Connie without upsetting him. No one had brought up the question as to why he was so down either – likely do to knowing that it was probably the worst case scenario. Shifting his gaze again, the blonde teen looked to Mikasa next to him to see that she was pushing a single uneaten olive around the bottom of her can. Her gaze looked as stoic as ever but even more so blank. After the many years that he had known her, Armin knew that Mikasa only hung her head and slouched her shoulders forward when she thought of Rogue in a troubling way. He didn't blame her. He really wanted to know how Rogue fit into the big picture. There was little chance that the newest breach was for the sake of extermination. The Armored and Colossal had to be after Rogue for something or for something that they believe he knew or maybe even committed.
There was always the theory about Rogue's alpha status. But he had a hunch about such an idea. Why wouldn't titans, like many species on the planet just select a new alpha? He had a horrible hunch that things were not that simple.
"Ah! Look what I found!" Gelgar celebrated with a cunning grin as he walked out of the dark cellar with a deep green bottle in hand. "It's not even half full, but it's a ninety-year-old wine. I can't read the letters since they are faded out but a date is all I need to know that my searching was worth it!" The man hummed to himself as he removed the lid and began to drink, looking absolutely pleased. Nanaba groaned.
"You shouldn't even be drinking right now, Gelgar. You don't need to be hungover tomorrow when we encounter titans."
The man only grumbled and ignored the woman, taking a few more sips before setting the bottle next to his makeshift sleeping area. "I'll save it for later then. You don't just come across wine as old as that any day – let alone one for free."
"You're an idiot." Nanaba sighed, managing to get a small smile from Armin. He observed as Nanaba poured herself a small bit of water from her canteen and take a bite of peas. She placed her eyes onto Connie who was slowly eating his food. For several long minutes, the Section Commander watched the reserved teen eat, Connie looking as if he was struggling to swallow. It grew tense in the bare room, all eyes upon the woman who was obviously preparing to ask the inevitable. Nanaba finally exhaled, her broad shoulders sinking and a sympathizing and apologetic look grew upon her face. "Connie, I hate to ask, but something happened in Ragako didn't it?"
Connie's gaze sank to the licking flames and he let his spoon rest on the lip of the can. Several agonizing seconds passed before the teen cleared his throat. "My parents are dead." He muttered, still looking at the fire and watching it dance. "A titan ate them. We found them in a titan pellet." Connie informed with those who witnessed the scene lowering their chins to stare at the flames as well.
Nanaba's brows lifted in astonishment before she too looked sadly into the flames. "I'm so sorry. Perhaps I shouldn't have asked."
"It's fine." Connie answered with a deep breath. "I'm just hoping that my sister Sunny and my brother Martin made it to Ehrmich district. The family horse was gone, so I'm hoping that's what happened."
"If so, what will happen to them?"
Connie lifted his can and put another spoonful into his mouth. "I have an aunt and uncle that live Wall Sina so they'll probably take them in. They live on a farm close to the city so that's good." The teen paused, unexpectedly unveiling a soft smile. "The Scouts have been pretty much like a second family to me. Even though The Corporal sometimes scares the hell out of me, I still feel quite at home." Connie suddenly looked away from the flames to view them, his smile a little bigger. "I mean, I have all of you in this room including Hange and even Rogue." The teen chuckled in the slightest. "I mean – I couldn't ask for better friends. It's amazing knowing you all and I'm glad to call the Scouts a family. My father – when my grandpa died, always said to look upon the brighter side of death. You remember the good times you had and spend time with people that care about you. I don't think he or mom would like to see me depressed for the rest of my life. So – I'm not going to be. Thanks you guys." Connie concluded, putting on a smile and looking a little more normal.
"Remember, we are always here if you need someone to talk to, Connie." Krista smiled broadly, her cheerfulness contagious.
The teen smiled. "Don't worry I will."
Armin just let himself follow the natural reaction to nod in agreement. However, he couldn't help but think. Connie had surprised him with his outlook for he always thought the teen would react much differently than he had. He swallowed, finding Connie's mentioning of Rogue a bit upsetting. Their titanic friend was likely what attracted the other deviants to make their advancement, bringing many mindless titans along with them with one making a meal out of his own parents. It was things like this, where he hoped it was just a bunch of hungry titans rather than those sporting an agenda.
Twenty minutes had quickly gone by and their two superiors had rapidly fallen asleep in their worn sleeping bags. Armin made note at how different their positions were with Nanaba swaddling herself while Gunter had his face buried in his pillow with his feet hanging out of his mess of blankets. The others were either sitting bored out of their minds or were finishing up their morsels. Armin continued to nervously stir his fork in his now empty can, only chatting with the others every once in a while, before retreating into the confounds of his mind. The more he thought, the more he didn't believe that the titan's natural hunger was the cause of the breach. Everything was much too timed and when he factored The Female Titan's appearance and intentions into the equation – it was incredibly clear that Rogue was being hunted.
There had to be something more that the titans wanted with Rogue. There had to be.
"It's probably a good thing that Sasha isn't here to eat with us – she doesn't hold her beans very well." Connie began, having given in to some quiet merriment.
"Tell me about it." Krista snickered, trying to hold in a laugh. "At night in the girl's cabin during our cadet years, Sasha sure was musical when she went to bed to say the least."
Armin laughed at her statement with Mikasa smiling.
"I guess her inability to control her gut supplied the perfect excused to Shadis as to why we were sometime too loud." His friend spoke almost casually with the others breaking out in giggles. "Speaking of flatulence, Connie I still regret the day you taught Rogue how to make arm farts."
Jean then lost it. "I'll never forget the day when Rogue did it in front of Levi during training – and before The Commander. I've never seen The Corporal's face so red at that very moment." The teen cackled with Connie nearly snorting as he drank from his canteen. "He got in so much trouble that day."
"And he didn't even care, either." Krista tittered. "Even as Levi just got madder and madder, Rogue just kept doing it."
"He sure makes things more interesting." Armin joined in, his stomach unexpectedly letting out a loud growl that didn't go unheard. The teen's face reddened in slight embarrassment. Even after the can of black beans he was still starving. "I guess I'm still hungry." He snickered, face growing redder.
"I don't blame you Armin, I could still eat a horse." Jean grunted as he lifted himself from the floor and got to his feet. "I'm going to go back into the kitchen and see if I can find something else to eat, do you want to come?"
"I'll go with you!" Krista stood quickly. "I'm still hungry too actually."
"I'll go as well," Mikasa stood. "I could use another bite myself."
"I wouldn't mind more."
With the others standing, Armin quickly followed. "Yeah, hopefully we can find something." He agreed as he followed the others into the dark kitchen. Lit by the torch, it was clearly illustrated that the kitchen was primitive. There was a small sink with a pump and a rusty kettle over a heath – neither having been used for ages and too small to serve an entire regiment. There was a wood burning stove that had clearly seen use high on the right wall. On both sides of the sink was a narrow counter where a butcher block sat covered in at least an inch of dust. There were several shelves to the left that had quickly gathered their attention for each were lined with boxes. Feeling his stomach rumble again, Armin motioned for one of the shelves and began to rummage through the crates with the others following his action. Armin frowned as he dug through the contents of the box, only finding very old canned peaches that had expired years ago and spiders at the bottom of the crate. He sighed as he moved onto another only to find similar contents.
"Damn, all that's in here is fruit that went bad decades ago." Jean grumbled.
"Yeah, these apples expired in year 805 – which was forty-five years ago." Mikasa examined a rusty can. "It looks like we're are going to have to settle for beans, olives, and peas."
"Maybe there's something in the cabinets beneath the sink." Krista suggested, the young blonde strolling over to open the creaky wooden doors with the others – pulling out old pots and pans in search for any other morsel.
Armin sighed, knowing that their luck didn't look to be on their side. However, his keen blues caught a glimpse of something that he had missed before. Behind the adjacent shelf was what looked to be the edge of a wooden door with a dull handle. Armin blinked in thought. The shelf in front of the door was covered in dust – indicating that it hadn't moved in years. He continued to think. 'Why was this door concealed?' Armin got to his feet and gave the shelf a push, only managing to move the heavy wooden piece an inch from where it stood – the loud creak it produced grabbing his friends' attention.
"Armin? What are you –
"There's a door behind this shelf." Armin quickly informed, easily peeking the others' interest with Mikasa and Jean hurrying to his aid.
"Do you think it could be a pantry?" Krista questioned.
"It could be some sort of pantry." Armin answered as he, Jean, and Mikasa managed to scoot the shelf off to the side, revealing a door that had once been painted a royal blue but was nothing but peeling and chipping paint. "Pantries are always in kitchens so perhaps there's some pretty good food on the other side of it." Armin smiled. "They had to have had a good reason for hiding the door from wandering eyes."
"Let's hope you're right Armin." Jean began as he examined the door knob. "Hopefully it's a pantry and not a restroom." The teen tried to turn the knob, finding that it wouldn't budge. "Shit it's locked."
Armin stood straighter at the news. Yes, there definitely was a reason that this door had been hidden. The blonde male looked closer, seeing a detail that got his hopes up. "The door – it's practically rotten. We could easily push it off the hinges with little to no effort."
"Good idea Armin." Connie spoke as he placed his shoulder onto the door, Jean following his actions. He watched as the two boys began to push, the door surprisingly holding out against them. Mikasa sighed.
"Step aside." She said with the two boys complying fretfully.
"What are you going to –
Before Jean could finish his query, Mikasa hit the door with a brutal kick, instantly knocking the door off its hinges, leaving part of it hanging but giving them entrance. The teen's blue eyes looked upon the kitchen's exit – surprised that the noise didn't rouse their superiors before looking upon Jean and Connie who's faces looked so dumbfounded that it was comical. He couldn't help but snicker. If it was one thing they could always rely on, it was Mikasa's strength.
"You have to put more force into it." Mikasa explained. "The door may be old, but it's made of cedar." She concluded as she maneuvered herself inside the room with Armin and the others trailing her, hearing Jean and Connie curse their incompetence.
Armin blinked, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the change of light in the incredibly dark room. He could barely see a few inches in front of him. "Hey Krista? Could you go get the torch on the wall?" He asked with the girl quickly complying. Krista quickly returned with the small torch, the light revealing a room that was no bigger than most common closets – barely large enough for them to move about comfortably in. The room's contents however proved that he had been right about the possibility of something valuable. Stacked around the edges of the room were shipping crates filled with more canned food. Armin bent down and pulled out one of the short cans from the crate. Like the other cans found in the castle, they were indeed old – but had contents that never truly expired. Herring – a type of fish that if prepared properly could be stored for years – something that he had found out when reading books Rogue had retrieved from the Scout's depots.
"Thank god we found something that we can actually eat that's filling." Jean exclaimed as he began to pull out several cans. "If I'm not mistaken, herring is really hard to come by these days."
"It is." Armin replied as he turned to retrieved all that he wanted. "I think I've only ever had it once or twice in my lifetime. It was so expensive that my grandpa never bought it."
"I guess that explains why it was hidden back here then."
Armin nodded in agreement and turned to go through the contents of a box in the corner, only to spot something else out of the ordinary. Beneath a crate, was an old and worn trunk like the kind that were used when moving or traveling. Quickly, the teenager braced himself and lifted the wooden crate away to reveal the trunk in full. It was covered in a leather that looked to have been made of cow hide that had been distressed over the many years. The latches, corners, and any piece of hardware were made of iron and beat to nearly hell – showing that the trunk had seen many things and moved many miles. The most peculiar thing about the chest was that on its face were two letters pressed into the leather. Although barely readable in the dim light, Armin could clearly make out a 'J.P' which could only be initials that perhaps belonged to the previous owner. Armin swallowed. Why was this locked away in a pantry? "Hey Guys, look at this." He announced quietly but gathering their attention nonetheless.
"Is that – a suitcase?" Mikasa queried, seating herself next to him with Krista and Connie placing themselves on his other side with Jean hanging overhead.
"Why is it here?"
Armin tilted his head, looking at the straps of the chest. "Maybe – this was what someone didn't want someone else to find."
"Do you suppose that the letters are someone's initials?" Krista turned to him, her eyes wide in interest.
"What else could they be?" Mikasa speculated. "Maybe this J.P was someone that was in the Scouts – or maybe the previous owner of Utgaard."
"Can you open it? Is it locked?" Connie questioned.
Armin scrutinized the chest, looking for any sort of locking mechanism but only seeing the leather belt like straps over the opening. "Yeah. There's no lock on it." The teen continued as his fingers fiddled with the latches, flipping the metal parts upwards with a satisfying click. Carefully, as if he was handling a thin piece of parchment, Armin pried open the lid – the chest revealing not a single item inside.
"Well, it's empty." Jean sighed, preparing to return to his task of retrieving herring. "I guess there was no –
"Hold on." Armin intervened, his eyes catching another crucial detail. "It has a false bottom." He informed, reaching his hand into the silk lined crate and pulling out the thin wooden piece wrapped in fabric. Armin's eyes widened at what lay beneath it. There was only one item, an old book with a leather cover that was even more worn than the case. The leather was the color of wine, a stained red with the pages yellowed from time. The book itself was about two inches thick and on the front of the cover was the phrase 'field journal' which immediately peaked the occupants' of the room's interest.
"Looks like it's a journal from a previous Scout." Mikasa perceived. "Maybe it's this J.P's field journal about their expeditions."
"Let's see." Armin began as he, with a feather light touch, opened the cover of the journal, the spine creaking in protest. There, on the first page was indeed a name. "Jorge Pikale." He spoke, his mind processing the title – where had he heard the name before? The Cadets. He had heard it in one of his very first classes when Alois was telling them about the history of the regiments. Armin thought harder, the man's identity on the tip of his tongue.
"Jorge Pikale." Jean pondered. "Wait. Jorge Pikale was a captain of the Scouts – which is the equivalent of Commander back then, over seventy years ago."
It then clicked in his head, making Armin feel utterly foolish that he had forgotten. "Jorge Pikale was known as Jorge the Hero. He was the first man to ever defeat a titan." He beamed, suddenly growing excited. They had just found a piece of history. Yes, this was what was truly hidden in the secret pantry.
"Woah, you mean THE Jorge the Hero?" Connie beamed, giving in to curiosity. "The first man to ever slay a titan?"
"Yes." Armin flipped through another page, seeing that it was dated and the text was written in elaborate cursive, a sketch nestled next to it of a titan that the man had encountered. "Looks like he documented each and every one of his expeditions he went on." Armin turned the page, seeing another dated entry describing the birth of the man's son, Carlo Pikale as the text read. "Of course it looks like he documented some important events in his life as well."
"How about we read some of it before turning in for the night? It might get our mind off things before we sleep." Mikasa suggested with the blonde teen knowing the reason she had made the recommendation.
"If you don't mind Armin," Krista smiled brightly. "I'd love to hear some of it."
"I could use the pick me up."
Armin shifted to get comfortable. "Sure." He smiled warmly. "I need an escape as well before hitting the sack. He then began to flip through the many entries and sketches. "How about I just read the interesting looking ones for now?"
"That's good." Jean lowered himself to sit upon his knees. "There's no way we can go through it all this evening anyway."
"Alright then. I'll flip through it and you guys let me know when to stop." Armin initiated as he began to thumb through the pages of the journal. Each and every page, to him at least, looked absolutely intriguing. Hange would have flipped to see the many titan illustrations that decorated the pages, most of the monsters being three to eight meters tall. Armin then came upon another titan sketch – one of a muscular ten meter with short hair, a wide mouth fixed in a cunning sneer, and a discoloration over the thing's left eye. The sketch of the titan had the creature eating other soldiers in great detail, each of the men not having the maneuver gear that was standard issue. "How about this one?"
"Looks interesting enough." Jean agreed.
"Alright." Armin spoke, beginning to read:
Today we encountered the largest titan we as humans have seen to date. A ten meter that we have nicknamed 'Ogre.' The creature practically decimated half of our ranks. The thing is absolutely massive, powerful, and eats like mad – more than I've seen any other titan eat. Our current tactics are ineffective. It's fast and too difficult to wrangle or topple over. Our damn swords, even though they are made of iron bamboo, can barely scratch the thing even if we use as much force as we can. Humanity needs a new weapon to defeat these things – one that will give us the advantage over their height. I need to contact Xenophon and his assistant Angel to see if they can think of anything or have any new ideas.
"That must have been the titan that lead to the creation of our maneuver gear." He smiled, incredibly thankful for the insight. This was stuff he could have never learned in a classroom.
"How about reading the entries having to do with maneuver gear?" Mikasa asked. Armin nodded.
"Shure." He thumbed through more pages until he found another drawing of what looked to be some sort of metal backpack composed of gears and pipes. Another grin grew onto his face when he recognized what exactly he was looking at. "That must be the predecessor of our gear."
"Looks heavy and bulky compared to what we have today."
"Indeed." Armin chuckled as he cleared his throat:
After my suggestion a few years ago, Xenophon and Angel have invented something that they say can be used to help soldiers kill titans. They call it 'The Device' and it's the most bizarre thing I've seen. It allows us to fly I think, using a cable and trigger to launch and pull us up to the nape of a titan so we can kill it with our sword. I watched Angel test it today, it was quite funny to see him fly face first into a roof. This tool needs work. But I have a feeling about it.
Armin concluded reading the entry and proceeded to search for another one related to their maneuver gear. The teen passed by several more entries about titan encounters until he came upon another small entry with another drawing of the primitive gear – this time the weapon resembled the modern one with the exemption of its size and several more exhaust pipes. For the third time, he began to read:
Tomorrow, I'm testing The Device in the company of my son, a Mr. Cardina, and The Titan's son Kuklo. It's a prototype that's smaller and lighter that the first version by Angel and Xenophon. We are doing this in secret. The Military Police, for some god-forsaken reason, are not wanting this device to be approved to be produced and utilized by the military. I have no idea why. We have spoken to a Garrison squadron stationed near Shiganshina and they have agreed to help us out with this task. They are supplying us with a few men and gifting us a few much needed horses. Thankfully, the Military Police won't be around the area tomorrow afternoon so we can do what we want without intervention. We'll see how this thing works.
The blonde male then turned the page to the next entry with the others' eager encouragement. However, the entry upon the page wasn't like those that they had seen previously. The handwriting wasn't neat and tidy, the cursive was rushed and some letters were almost smeared. The man's hand was probably shaking immensely when he was penning the entry, Armin concluded. Looking at the date, it had been the day that Jorge and the others had tested The Device for the first time. Could something have occurred?
"Wonder what happened." Jean began. "His hands must have been trembling or something. It almost looks like he was drunk when he wrote this one.
"Can you read it Armin?" Mikasa queried. Armin rubbed his chin.
"It's messy, but I can make it out." Swallowing to salivate his throat, Armin began reading the journal entry:
My hands are shaking as I write this entry. To whomever finds this journal, it is absolutely dire that it does NOT FALL INTO THE HANDS OF THE CHURCH OR THE LIKES OF THE MILITARY POLICE. If you find my writings, please turn them over to the current head of the Scouting Regiment. During our mission, we encountered something unlike anything anyone has ever seen. I believe it is the greatest discovery of the current era. At the time, I tried to tell the Captain of the Military Police what we encountered. For some reason unknown, they were quick to silence us along with the Church. We all were met with severe punishment and strapped with a gag order. I'm not sure why they are trying to cover this up. I feel that their reactions are not without reason. Please, if you are reading this, get this to the right person. I beg of you.
Armin sat up at what he had just read. A discovery? What discovery was the man talking about? Was it that the device worked or something? The MP's seemed to be against it at the time. Then again, why did Jorge use the word 'encounter' in his entry? Could they have found something? It was painfully clear to Armin that when the man was writing, he was desperate.
"Alright." Connie began. "This is getting a little creepy. What did they find?"
"I don't know." Armin speculated. "It had to have been important though, sounds like it could have been terrifying too. It's a long entry, but I can read it."
"If Jorge wanted it delivered to the current Commander, it's probably best that you do, Armin." Mikasa encouraged with Armin nodding.
The teen then began to read the messy text aloud to the five of them, each and every word painting them a picture as to what happened on the very day mentioned sixty years ago:
Year 790, Just Outside of Shiganshina District
Thunder cracked overhead like a whip, rain threatening to pour down from the nearly black ominous sky. The wind was blowing harder, causing his hair to fly around his face in every direction. Jorge cursed the weather for the tenth time in the past hour. It seemed that no matter how much they planned, luck had not been on their side. A mere few hours before, when he and his small party of people involved in the secret mission to test The Device, the afternoon was sunny. To their surprise, right before they lowered themselves down the wall, clouds began to cover the orange sky. Foolishly, they had ignored this warning, desperate to test the new weapon on the only day that they could without the watchful eye of the Military Police closing in on their company.
Jorge commanded his horse to move, swallowing nervously at the arrival of two titans, one a five meter and the other a six meter – each devoid of any other emotion other than a dead-eyed stare and a wicked grin. This mission was already going badly. They hadn't expected the creatures to be as active as they were during the close of the day. He didn't expect for two of them to show up either, and from experience, when there was two there was likely going to be more. Kind of like cockroaches.
The man bit his lip as thunder echoed overhead, watching as one of the titans snatched an unfortunate Garrison soldier from the saddle of their horse and bite them in half – the beast's hands greedily reaching for more. Jorge swore again beneath his breath. Their plan had been so well thought out. He, his son Carlo, Kuklo, and Cardina each wore The Device. Cardina, a young man that was a good friend to Kuklo was given the task to act as bait to draw in a nearby titan. The decision was made due to the man having little experience in terms of combat and wasn't truly that extemporary when it came to using the new weapon. Cardina was brave however, not to mention supportive and was someone they could trust wholeheartedly. Kuklo, who excelled at using The Device, was in the same position as he and Carlo – the position to launch themselves up at a titan's nape and strike. The Garrison soldiers worked in pairs equipped with heavyweight rope so they could restrain the beasts' ankles or trip them to give those in charge slaying the monsters the opportunity. This was due to the fact that The Device could only be used to launch one in one direction – straight upwards. It was the biggest drawback that he hoped that Xenophon would be able to improve upon. To best a titan, they needed the mobility. In addition to the plan, each of those in possession of a Device, had two pairs of Garrison soldiers upon their sides – ready for any orders. But of course, no matter how much they had planned, they could never expect for things to go in their favor when going up against titans.
Nothing was perfect. Ever.
Thunder rumbled overhead, the belly of the sky splitting open and rain beginning to pour down. They could not quit though. This was their only chance. Rain had never stopped them before. Then, another series of quakes occurred that rivaled the thunder's frustrated grumbles. Alert as prey should be, Jorge spun his head to see another titan approach them, a seven meter that only looked angry at the world with its deep scowl. "Shit!" The man hissed between his teeth. "As if we needed more of them!" Jorge growled, knowing that he and his crew needed to eliminate the fairly large titan before it killed more men and destroyed their chances of succeeding further. He looked to the two experienced Garrison soldiers, seeing that they knew what must be done as well. Jorge then made the order. "Carlo! You go for the six-meter! Kuklo, you go for the five, and I'll handle this big boy!" The Captain ordered over another protest from the heavens.
Jorge then turned to the two men and drew his heavy iron bamboo blade from its holster, waving it before him to signal to commence their attack. In less than perfect sync, the two Garrison solders held the rope between them and rode forward as he began to circle the creature at a safe distance on his horse, blade ready and prepared. The titan's attention was thrown to the two solders at its feet, the creature screeching practically in glee as it bent over and attempted to swipe one of the men from their mounts. Quickly, to provide cover, Jorge steered his horse toward the Garrison solders and with a strong swipe – sliced a large gash all across the creatures knuckles with gore decorating his silver blade. The titan reared back, roaring in agony and giving a window to his team. In unison, the solders proceeded to steer their steeds around the beast's ankles. Unfortunately, they didn't possess the needed skills to do it efficiently unlike those trained in the Scouts. The titan sidestepped, nearly pulling one of the men from his horse, but when the monster backpedaled again – the titan managed to do the very act. One of the soldiers was pulled violently from their saddle and into the muddy earth beneath the titan's legs, the giant's foot coming down on top of the poor soul before he young man could even scream. Jorge growled at the sight of blood bubbling up between the beast's toes, the monster paying no regard to its sin whatsoever. Clearly, they were going to have to resort to their second tactic – one that he didn't like executing for it was incredibly risky without one knowing a particular titan's top speed.
"Switch to tactic B! We are going to have to play a game of cat and mouse with this one!"
"Yes, Capitan!" A soldier confirmed over the roar of thunder, lightening painting the landscape white for several seconds before the area darkened.
Jorge prepared himself yet again as a solder fired off an acoustic round, a new tool in their arsenal that produced a high pitched tune that either stunned titans or attracted them. This time, the noise only captured the beast's full and focused attention to the ready and waiting soldiers. The seven-meter titan emitted a low roar and started after the team of Garrison recruits that dared the beast to a chase, giving him an open window to the monster's nape – just as long as his team didn't change direction. With a deep breath, Jorge grabbed the trigger hanging from his waste, aiming the gun shaped piece up at the base of the creature's skull. He watched for a moment, not even blinking at another clap of thunder and at the drops of rain that had settled on his lashes. He needed to finish the thing off quickly. It was always uncertain if a titan would react to a being on its nape or not. There were far too many times where he had seen soldiers grabbed and squeezed to pulp doing just that. With a final breath, he focused and pulled the trigger to The Device. As it had done in demonstration, the grapple and cable fired from the gun's barrel and planted itself into the layers of skin right below the titan's neck. Jorge then pulled the second trigger, suddenly sailing through the air. The force was tremendous, his arm pulling and his stomach dropping into his pelvis – a sensation he had never gotten used to when he began training with The Device. He gritted his teeth as he braced for the rough impact, trying desperately to not let the trigger slip from his grasp. Roughly, the man landed at the base of the titan's skull, its oily hair cascading over Jorge's shoulders. With the beast still running after his team, he began to move quickly. He drew his blade and dug his boots as deep into the ridges of the creature's muscles as he could to brace himself. Then, with as much force as he could, he lunged the iron bamboo blade deep into the nape. At this, the titan screamed, stopping in its tracks and bucking awkwardly, nearly throwing the man off. No! He would not let this monster prevail over him! With the creature's rage fuming, it roared again as Jorge pulled the sword across the titan's nape to create a deep gash that sent the beast howling. Still, he couldn't stop there. They had learned the hard way many years ago that the entire nape had to be cut clean otherwise the titan would just regenerate and keep on killing. Avoiding another thrash from the creature, Jorge withdrew his sword and plunged it into the creature's steaming flesh again at an angle. His ears throbbed at the creature's cry of agony, the sound leaving the world around him ringing. Deafness was another product that a titan could provide, far too many soldiers had gone deaf when the creatures would scream or roar in their ears. It was another thing he always added on the long list of things to avoid. The titan twisted around again and the horrifying sight of its hand hung over him, ready to grab and squeeze his insides from his body like he was a grape. Without another second to spare, Jorge pulled the sword across the titan's nape for the second time, carving out a chunk of red flesh that slid down the creature's back leaving a bloody trail behind – killing it.
The seven-meter's body went as limp as a ragdoll and the monster began its decent back to earth, the man timing his jump off the creature just before the several ton titan plowed into the mud. Getting back to his feet, the Captain couldn't help but wear a confident grin. The Device had made the job easier and much faster with minimum losses – just as it was designed to do. But still, it needed refining. They needed to be able to perhaps move in different directions and actually fly rather than launch themselves upward. They had something though, something big that could be great with time.
Hearing another cry of a felled titan, Jorge looked to see Carlo pulling his sword from his assigned titan's flesh, the young man wearing a confident grin as he looked to his father. "This thing works!" He laughed over the sound of pouring rain. "We may finally be gaining the upper hand with the titans, father!"
"Good work! But we are not done, Kuklo is still handling the five meter –
However, The Captain couldn't finish his sentence as the ground beneath his feet vibrated greatly and in a familiar pattern. Nearby boulders and trees quivered like a man in the winter wind. His heart pounded in his breast and skin paled white. There was only one titan that he knew of that could shake the earth so violently.
The familiar ten-meter titan tore its way through the line of trees, the entire world seemingly quiet as it made its way to Cardina hanging from the wall. Ogre was certainly a foul beast and no stranger to any soldier. It was the largest titan they had seen to date and often it served as a source of bragging rights that young soldiers often used to impress others or pick up women at bars saying that they survived the beast's wrath. Ogre was just grotesque no matter what angle one would look at the titan. The towering beast was very muscular but had a slight hunch to its back. The titan's face only looked imposing, a wide cunning grin, high cheekbones, and beady eyes. The ears of the creature fanned out in the slightest and the short hair upon its head was silver like that of an aged man. Over its left eye was a discoloration that reminded him of a scar. The titan was an abnormal. Always unpredictable. The very titan was responsible for the most deaths and injuries that the Scouts suffered. It was tradition to give their largest and fiercest titans names. Needless to say, Ogre sure suited this one.
Jorge quickly scaled his horse and rode towards the beast. Normally, he would have preferred a titan going to the base of the wall where Cardina hung, but Ogre was a ten-meter titan and could easily reach Cardina – the young man would never be able to reel himself up the wall in time. He would have to use the only strategy he could think of to possibly kill the beast. Reaching into the pouch on his saddle, Jorge pulled a flare gun out and aimed a shot into the creature's eye, successfully hitting his target. The titan stopped in its pursuit and screamed, instinctively clawing at its face. "GET READY!" Jorge called over his shoulder, the sky lighting up a blinding white. "PREPARE YOURSELVES! MANUVER R!" He shouted over the rage of the building storm. The earth shook, drawing his attention back onto the monster to see that it had set its eyes upon him. The titan roared and lunged – a greedy hand outstretched and ready to enwrap his body in its fingers. Reacting quickly, Jorge commanded his horse to swerve, the titan's hand narrowly missing him but managing to snatch an unfortunate soldier. The creature immediately feasted, thankfully losing interest in The Captain as he rode behind the beast. Readying his blade yet again, Jorge brought it across the monster's ankles – only managing a scrape through the beast's thick hide. "Shit!" He cursed again, watching as his son attempted the same maneuver and getting the same result.
"Looks like we're going to have to try harder!" Carlo growled. "Damn it!"
"Yeah, this one is thick skinned. I'll handle the hard stuff; you go for the nape when you get the chance!"
Ogre waved his massive arm, painting blood across the soaked earth. Again, he rode his horse between the titan's legs and sliced at the beast's ankle – the hit doing next to nothing. The titan held a solder in hand, cramming it into his mouth before roaring and going after another poor Garrison. The Captain rode towards his target again, his attempts continuing to be futile as the blood of his men continued to be spilt. Ogre roared again, cramming a handful of men and forcing them past his teeth. The titan spun its massive body, eyes suddenly locked onto him again. His heart began to beat faster as the creature rose a hand and swung, barely missing him with the earth crumbling beneath his horse's hooves. Quickly, he went after the beast's ankle yet again to deliver the cut. As expected, he didn't reach the tendon and only managed to paint his blade red yet again. The titan screeched angrily, and turned to try and follow him – the creature completely ignoring any damage he had made. He whipped the reins of his horse, pushing the animal to its limits, but the equine wasn't quick enough as the titan's looming figure was soon over him.
He was done for.
Jorge's face twisted in confusion as he heard the beast screech in agony yet again. Looking over his shoulder, he caught sight of Kuklo – the teenager having abandoned the task of taking out the five meter that he was assigned to in order to distract Ogre from delivering the final blow. The boy was hooked onto the titan's muscular arm, his sword down in the creature's flesh as he hung by the cable of The Device. Even from where he was, Jorge could see the fire in the teen's single eye – a ferocity that some of the bravest soldiers possessed. The Captain was thankful, but not at all happy with the boy. Kuklo had went above his orders, pulling a foolish move that put their lives in grave danger.
Ogre had stopped his assault to simply stare at the young teen, its gaze absolutely haunting. On edge, Jorge watched as the titan lifted its palm and brought it towards the young man like one would do to kill a mosquito, Carlo firing a cable towards the nape of the beast's neck as it was distracted. At the last possible second, Kuklo dropped – but mistakenly letting go of the trigger on The Device, the young man falling back to earth. Jorge let out a gasp, pulling his horse in the direction of the teen's fall. He had to catch him! He couldn't afford to lose the boy! Quickly, he sheaved his blade and held out his arms, Kuklo falling right into his grasp.
However, before he could even blink, his horse suddenly flew out from beneath him and his body was airborne, Ogre having swiped at the equine. Wind wrapped itself around him until he landed roughly against the ground. The stormy sky and bloody earth traded places over and over again before Jorge came to a stop. The man blinked, watching a bolt of lightning run across the darkness overhead. His head throbbed, a wetness on his brow that indicated a nasty gash. Suddenly remembering his cargo and the danger at hand. Jorge sat up, only to feel an incredible pain in his side. Instinctively, his hand flew to his ribcage, feeling an obvious break – thanking the goddesses that the bone didn't puncture his lung. Recalling the teenager that was in his arms he looked around only to find the boy rushing over to him in alarm. He was then reminded that he was now in a serious dilemma. With his rib horribly broken, he was down for the count. The only two able men that could possibly kill Ogre were an unexperienced recruit and his son that was currently struggling to get high enough to the monster's nape – the cables of The Device not long enough. Every one of the Garrison soldiers that they had brought with them had all but been eaten.
"Captain Pikale! Are you hurt?"
He grunted. "My rib's broken. Damn it. There's no way we can kill this thing." Jorge struggled to get to his feet. "We are going to have to retr-
An earth-shattering roar quieted the man mid-sentence, and causing a hushed silence to fall over the landscape. All life around them seemed to still as the bellow carried on – loud and clear. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rise and his skin prickle. Every muscle in his body grew tense as his wide eyes looked around for a source, only seeing that Ogre and the five meter were absolutely still, heads turning about to look in what he could label as sheer confusion. Jorge swallowed. In his many years he had devoted to titan slaying, he had never heard a roar quite like the one that just met his ears. It was different. It didn't sound as high in pitch, the bellow was deep and powerful – similar to a warrior's battle cry but sounding like roar of a silverback. The bellow was absolutely beastly. One thing was absolutely certain though.
Whatever it was, it was BIG.
It was coming straight for them.
And it was VERY angry.
The ground beneath them began to shake, thundering footfalls rattling it to the extent that he was knocked back down into the mud. The incoming creature roared again, the sound forcing him to cover his ears as trees were torn from their roots and birds seeking refuge from the storm retreated. Suddenly, a massive humanoid charged out of the tree line with another bellow. Lightning ran across the sky yet again to shade everything in a bright light, but the thunder overhead could barely be heard above the beast's howl. Jorge's eyes focused again just in time to see a vast hand encase Ogre's face and the ten-meter titan being slammed straight down into the earth with the soil feeling the abuse from the weight. He was still, eyes hooked onto what was before him.
Ogre, the most vicious titan that the Scouts had come across had just been attacked – by another titan.
A BIGGER titan.
Absolutely spellbound, he watched as Ogre struggled like a helpless dog beneath the new titan, swiping uselessly at the thing's face. The new behemoth roared again, raising a clutched fist and bringing it down upon the ten-meter's skull. Through the clamor of the storm, Jorge and the remaining few could hear the sickening crack of bone and watched blood shoot skyward like a fountain. Ogre whimpered at the blow, reduced to a pathetic animal as the larger titan opened its jaws and sunk its teeth into the ten-meter's throat, quickly ripping it out and swallowing the large amount of meat. Jorge and the others grew white. A titan was eating another one – something that humanity had never witnessed before.
"My… my god." His son came to his side, moving slowly so not to attract the beast. "What… what the hell is that thing?"
Jorge swallowed. He had never seen another titan quite like the one before him. Even in the dark, he could clearly make out some of the titan's features. "It's got to be at least fifteen-meters." He muttered as he watched the titan eat Ogre alive, tearing out the creature's organs and filling its gullet all the while the new titan's victim choked on its own blood. The creature's body was muscular, built like that of god's from old mythology books. Absolutely perfect with no limb too long or too short. The titan had dark, shaggy, and shoulder length hair that descended over its angular face. It had no lips, displaying a serrated jaw full of blunt teeth – resembling the smile of a skull. Its nose was hooked, the cartilage pointed at the tip. The titan's eyes glowed a bright and furious green as it continued to tear flesh from bone – barely even bothering to chew as it swallowed.
"What – what are those things on its head?" Kuklo muttered. "Are… are they horns?"
Jorge shook his head, squinting to study the creature closer. "No, they're – ears. It has pointed ears." Indeed, the titan had elven ears, the shape molded into a point – the appendages swiveling and moving in a way that reminded him of a cat's. Watching the titan dig its hand into its meal, he noticed that the beast's nails were pointed as well. By looks and temperament, this titan was absolutely unique.
"Captain? What should we do?" Kuklo began. "Should we try and kill it?"
He snorted. "Are you kidding? With what we have, there's no way we could take this guy on." Jorge spoke as he continued to watch the creature feed. "Besides, so far, it hasn't taken any interest in us. It's only eating the –
Unexpectedly, the new titan's ear twitched, the creature lifting its head to glare daggers at the five meter who had just noticed them sitting in the grass. A low growl that rattled his own chest resonated from the beast's throat with the titan narrowing its brows and nose wrinkling further, showing that it had the ability to change expression. What stunned him more however, was the fact that the five meter had stopped in its tracks to look upon the large titan – appearing like a child having been caught doing something wrong. Suddenly, the fifteen-meter roared again and reached over to effortlessly but roughly snatch the five meter off the ground. Much to the awe of everyone, the titan raised the other to its mouth and quickly tore out the nape of the monster before tossing it away carelessly like a piece of trash before returning to its feast, the beast grunting in pleasure as it devoured the body of Ogre.
"Holy crap, it knows where the weak spots on a titan are." Carlo speculated softly. "It went right for the nape of the five meter and right now it's practically torturing Ogre. It's not killing him because he knows what happens when the nape is removed. He's hungry by the looks of it and he's getting his fill. This titan – it could be a deviant class or it's an entirely different species we haven't seen yet."
"I'm betting on both." Jorge speculated, the stench of titan blood wavering through his nostrils. "It defeated Ogre easily – like it was chicken feed. This one – it's incredible."
"Yeah, it's –
However, Carlo stopped mid-sentence as the titan suddenly paused in its act of engorging itself. It sniffed, its deep breaths running across the moor. His heart bounded as the beast slowly lifted it head out of its prey's flesh – making his blood run cold at the fact that the titan had caught their scent. With his body rigged and he and the others too stunned and fearful to move, they watched as the behemoth placed its attention on them. It's eyes – it's eyes were astounding. They were no longer glowing a solid green, but were now like that of a human except for the creature's pupil that was slit like a snake's. They were unlike any that he had ever witnessed on a titan. They held the intellect of a man yet the feral wildness of an animal, green as emeralds and bright as a forest canopy in summertime. The titan's pupils dilated, rounding out as it continued to simply stare at them, the beast's nostrils flaring as it continued to inhale their scent.
"Oh my god – should we run?"
The words fell deaf on Jorge's ears as the creature suddenly rumbled deep in its throat, the sound almost subsonic. It wasn't a growl by any means, but the way it changed in pitch made it almost sound – inquisitive. Suddenly, the titan's pupils returned to vicious looking slits and the beast turned its attention to the defeated. The titan grunted, snarling at its unconscious prey before it got to its feet and planted its foot on Ogre's half eaten chest. The titan then tossed its head back and roared even louder than ever before, announcing a cry of dominance that seemingly silenced the thunder overhead. Lightning flashed, illuminating the creature's frame to highlight every muscle in the titan's body. No doubt, the monster was absolutely raw power.
The beast's roar died down to a deep grumble within its chest, its great head lowering to place its green eyes onto its kill. In awe, the four men and the others atop the wall watched as the megalith grabbed the ten-meter's leg and with a strong tug, hoisted the monster over its shoulder like as sack of flower with almost no effort. The creature then bolted for the tree-line with its prize in tow, disappearing in the foliage. With the storm quieting, a hushed silence fell over the landscape. All he could hear was his heart pounding in his chest and the drizzling rain. Minutes passed by, the world remaining quiet until his only son found the courage to speak.
"What – what should we call it?" He queried, bringing Jorge back to earth. The man already knew the answer.
"It has no interest in us and it cannibalizes its own kind. I can only think of one fitting title."
"The Berserker. To the other titans, he – is an absolute nightmare."
Armin's face flushed, the thumping in his chest only growing louder and louder. His hands shook, the journal trembling. He couldn't believe it. He simply couldn't believe it. Mikasa beside him had paled to where she was almost white while the others looked on in a dumbfounded expression. Armin swallowed a wad of saliva. The Berserker that Jorge had named, was it really his dear friend? Was it really Rogue?
"Don't tell me," Connie stuttered, the first of the group to speak. "Is Rogue the titan he's talking about? Who they called The Berserker?"
"It sure sounds like it." Jean muttered.
"Are we sure it couldn't be –
Hearing Mikasa's words, instinctively, Armin turned a page in the journal – his heart skipping a beat as the confirmation was clearly laid out on the page. There, sketched in pencil, were more detailed drawings with more effort used than any other displayed in the journal. It was a very clear series of studies depicting none other than Rogue himself. There was a heavily shaded portrait with the titan's strong and determined gaze that he had seen far too many times. The creature's nose was slightly wrinkled, the very same that Rogue displayed when he was disgusted or angry. Everything was identical, each detail from the pointed ears to the serrated row of teeth. It was Rogue, a very different looking Rogue that looked absolutely fearsome.
"It's him." He spoke softly, mind abuzz with the news. "It's Rogue before he came to Wall Maria, maybe even before he lost his memory."
"He seemed different then." Mikasa started, a hint of shakiness laden in her tone. "Then again, we've seen him like that before. What – what on earth happened to him?"
Armin hung his head at his friend's fear. The thread was starting to ever so slowly unravel, creating even more questions.
"I wonder what happened to him too Mikasa." Krista frowned. "With the way Jorge drew him, he almost looks like he lost something dear to him. He just looks so hurt."
His frown deepened, seeing what Krista meant the longer he looked at the drawing. Suddenly, a thought struck him, one that made a shiver run up the base of his spine.
"The Berserker – I wonder if he attacked Ogre in a fit of rage like he did to that titan that ate Grisha and Carla in Shiganshina." Mikasa speculated, overlooking his growing panic.
"Why?" Armin began, gaining the others' attention at his trembling voice. "Why would the church and the MP's try to cover up Rogue's existence? Why were they so quick to punish Jorge and the others and slap them with a gag order? Even now, why are they so keen on the idea to kill Rogue off?" Armin contemplated, his thoughts running a mile per minute. "They – they must know something. They have to know something about Rogue that we are unaware of. If that's true – then they have known of Rogue's existence the whole time."
His friends' eyes grew wider. "Armin," Mikasa began. "If that's true, why would they be so inclined to hide the fact that Rogue existed to the general public? Do you think that Rogue could have known something or maybe was in possession of –
Armin sat up suddenly, connecting a piece to the puzzle. "I think, the reason that the church and MP's kept him secret perhaps for the same reason that the other deviant titans are after him for. Maybe… maybe it has something to do with what The Female Titan –
A crash and a great amount of scuffling interrupted him. Alarmed, the group of teens turned and headed into the small kitchen with the blonde stowing the journal safely under his arm. Before they could enter the room that they had took refuge in, Gelgar appeared in the doorway.
"Prepare yourselves! Titans have surrounded the castle!"
Author's note: Yeah, please don't kill me about Mike and Connie's parents XD
If you're wondering about The Beast and Armored titans names. Ansgar is of Celtic origin meaning "Warrior" and for The Beast Titan - the guy's real name is cannon is an abbreviation. I decided to use the full name :)
As far as an update schedule, the chapters should come every one or two months (if I'm late it's usually do to life reasons) Chapter 23 shouldn't take me as long to write and upload this time XD
I always post updates about this fic as well as illustrations from it on my tumblr account of the same user name. If you'd like to read something else of mine as you wait for the next chapter, feel free to check out my book Twisted by Miranda Leek that you can get on Amazon. It's an old work I wrote when I was still a teen but you may enjoy it.
Stay tuned for the next chapter! It's going to be an intense one!