Captain Levi Ackerman had gone missing in action.
The Special Operations Squad had been out on their fifty seventh expedition, which had been going smoothly until she appeared. The female titan. Picking off their members one-by-one and seemed hell bent on going after Eren, one of the members they could not afford to lose.
One moment, Eren had been racing his mount on the heels of Levi's, and the next, the female titan had jumped, her large foot slamming into the ground and separating the two when Eren's horse reared and swerved to avoid crashing into the skinless leg.
Terrified, but ready to fight, Eren glanced over his shoulder, noting that the others were having trouble getting their horses to obey them, the poor creatures scattering like ants under the female titans angrily stomping feet. There was a great, deafening sound, like cannonfire, but Eren was too far off the path to know what the sound was or where it was coming from.
Petra and Oluo were just behind him, but the others went in entirely different directions. Eren turned his eyes back ahead, scanning for Levi but he was gone. He had either been smashed under the female titans' foot, or had just narrowly avoided such a terrible fate and had continued on the wide path. If so, their paths would cross in the next ten seconds. The path Eren currently took was narrow and full of bushes and low branches that threatened to knock him from the saddle, nearly impassable, but his horse was thundering over the bumpy ground like it was a smooth street, too terror-stricken to care where it placed its hooves.
Just five more seconds, and Eren would be able to get back on the main path, back to captain Levi… four… three… two… one.
Levi wasn't there.
Feeling slightly panicked for a moment, Eren got a hold of himself as his horse dove back onto the wider path, and his eyes turned back to the others, who were not far behind him. The female titan had disappeared. One moment she'd been crashing through the trees behind them, and the next it was like she'd never even been.
"Where did she go!?" Eren cried to Petra, who was now riding alongside him, her eyes rather wide.
"I don't know! She was just behind us a moment ago, I didn't notice when she disappeared!" She called back, and slowly pulled up on her horse.
Eren didn't pull back until a moment later, and was somewhat ahead of the others now, turning his panting horse around and trotting back to them. They stood there in the middle of the path, looking around in confusion.
"Should we continue with the mission? Where's Levi, Eld and Gunther?" Oluo asked, having to pull back on his reins, as his horse looked ready to bolt, trying to get the bit between its teeth.
"Eren, your horse is hurt!" Petra interrupted, hopping down and handing her reins to Oluo.
Eren bent over in the saddle, then also hopped down.
"Are you guys crazy, don't get off your horses!" Olou cried, looking around wildly as if he thought the female titan would appear out of nowhere. The forest was silent.
Indeed, Eren's horse had a very deep, bleeding wound on her knee. "If you keep running her she'll probably give out." Petra said, worriedly feeling of the horse's leg, which was warm and swollen.
"Well this is just great." Olou commented, shifting in the saddle. "Should I signal that the mission is failed?"
Petra looked uncertain for a moment. "But Captain Levi said to keep pushing forward!"
"For how long?! The titan's disappeared, Levi's missing, the right wing's been wiped out! The mission is failed!" Eren protested.
"Look, you two can sit here and argue it out until the female titan shows up again, but I'm not sitting around to get eaten!" Olou cried. He turned his horse around, trotting back a few paces and was intercepted by Eld.
"What are you stopping for? Push forward some more and hitch your horses. We've captured the female titan." He told them.
"Eld, have you seen Levi?" Petra asked, climbing back onto her mount.
Eld looked at her with slightly widened eyes. "He's not with you?"
"N-no. We were separated, he was just ahead of me, I thought…" Eren trailed off, looking horrified. "He's been smashed by the female titan!" He cried.
"No! He can't have been!" Petra cried, looking distraught. She and the others hurried back despite their orders to keep moving forward, gasping as they looked upon the female titan, standing there, covered in harpoons. "Captain Levi?" Petra called, going around the female titan, scouts running to and fro, shouting to one another.
"Commander Erwin!" Eld called, spotting the commander in a tree. "Have you seen Captain Levi?"
Erwin looked down, then used his gear to lower himself to the ground, brow furrowed. "No." He responded. "He's not with your team?"
"We were separated, he didn't join us when we regrouped." Oluo supplied.
Erwin looked troubled for a moment. "Perhaps his horse bolted with him. We can't assume anything else for now, just keep an eye out for him and-" Erwin was interrupted when the female titan began shrieking, letting out ear-splitting, ground-shaking, unearthly wails that rattled their bones.
"What the hell is she doing?" Oluo cried, covering his ears.
"Were those like death throws or something?"
"They're coming. I can smell them." Mike Zacharius interrupted.
"From what direction?" Erwin demanded.
"From every direction. Fast. Dozens."
"Faster on the artillery, gentlemen!" Before Erwin could come to the conclusion on his own, he was answered by a hoard of titans coming after the female one from all sides. "All hands, commence combat! Defend the female titan at all costs!" He roared, using his 3D maneuver gear to go after a titan to his right.
All hell broke loose as the scouts did as they were told, going after the titans and slaughtering dozens of them, but it was useless, there were too many of them. The female titan was lost.
The mission was a failure, the scouts were ordered to retreat back to the walls.
"But, captain Levi! He's still missing! We can't just leave him!" Petra insisted. "He's too valuable-"
"We can't afford to lose any more scouts looking for him, he'll be considered missing in action, we need to retreat, now!"
The return trip was risky, and due to a scout refusing to return home without the body of his fallen friend, they lost the other bodies and a few more scouts. The trip seemed to have been a waste, a terrible, godawful waste. And Levi had still not regrouped with them. The Levi squad had become burdened with grief.
"He was a good soldier." Oluo sighed as they were reentering the walls.
"Don't talk like that, like he's dead! He's just… missing." Petra whispered, tears in her eyes.
"And he isn't just a good soldier, he's the best damn scout we have. He's humanity's strongest soldier." Eld told him strongly. "He was too valuable to leave behind… I wish we had searched better, but there was no time… there were too many titans nearby… if only…"
Eren was silent. Captain Levi was humanity's strongest soldier. How were they going to survive without him? And they had lost the female titan, and countless other soldiers. This had not gone well. Not at all.
Meanwhile, Levi stood against the base of a tree, terrible pain shooting through his entire body, holding onto one sword with a bloody hand, the other hand pressed against a bleeding wound in his side. His 3D maneuver gear had been all but annihilated when the female titan nearly stepped on him, knocking him from the saddle. His horse had bolted, with his leg stuck in the stirrup, dragging him for a long way before he fell free.
Now, he was standing in the middle of the forest, panting, eyes darting in every direction, his trembling hold on his broken blade tightening as he heard sounds around him. Wounded, with a broken weapon, without his gear and without a horse even he had slim chances of taking on a titan should one stumble across him. His best bet was to avoid encountering one at all costs.
Grunting in pain, he stumbled, continuing to slowly make his way through the forest. He had to get back to the scout regiment before they made for home. It was a morbid thought. Being left behind, alone like this. He grit his teeth together, falling against a tree and panting, looking down at his wound. He couldn't keep going for much longer. It didn't help matters that thanks to the stirrup, his ankle had been twisted pretty badly.
Levi turned slowly, his sharp eyes darting in every direction. A titan was nearby. He could hear its heavy feet. It sounded smaller than an average titan. Or perhaps it simply wasn't as near as it sounded.
Levi's mind briefly wandered to the sounds he had heard earlier. The cannonfire – the harpoons. The shrieking – if he had to take an educated guess, he'd say that had been the mole protesting. He wondered if the mission had been a success. From where he was, he hadn't been able to see any smoke signals. If they had ordered a retreat yet, he wouldn't have been able to see it.
Drawn from his thoughts once more by strange sounds, Levi pressed himself against the tree, estimating that there was a titan just behind it, based on the shadow he now saw. How had it approached so silently!? Those great lumbering beasts normally made such a racket. This was either an abnormally small titan or simply and abnormal in general.
Levi weighed his options. He could hug the tree until the titan walked away, and hope it didn't smell him. That was pretty much the only realistic option he could think of. Running was not an option. His wound paired with his twisted ankle made it difficult to even stand, let alone run from or fight the thing.
Breathing as shallowly as possible, Levi clutched the handle of the only blade he was left with, which had broken nearly at the base. It was shorter than an average dagger. It wouldn't be much use to him, but it was all he had. His other blades had been smashed to bits with his gear. He pressed his back against the tree, slowly sliding along the base of it, keeping his eyes on the shadow which was slowly moving closer. If he could creep silently along the side of the tree and get to the other side of it, the titan, stupid, should walk by without noticing him. He prayed the blood covering him wouldn't make his scent stronger, though he knew better than to believe it didn't.
Levi's heart leapt out of his chest when unexpectedly a hand, a rather small titan hand, shorter from wrist to fingertips than he was tall, reached around the tree and grabbed him. He reacted quickly, stabbing with the little bit of blade he had left and slicing.
The beast cried out in pain, sounding more human than beast, and dropped him. Levi fell back, catching his first glimpse of the titan that could be no more than two meters, possibly not even two meters, tall. Eyes wide, Levi noted that the titan wore clothing, or what appeared to be such. Simply a large man-made grey blanket with a hole for the head, and a rope tied around his waist as a belt, similarly loose-fitting pants. The titans' expression was pained, and he looked so human in the face that it gave Levi pause.
The creature looked to be a boy, a child, with big black eyes, a head full of shoulder length black hair, and a shockingly lovely face and rather pale skin. For a titan, it was unbelievably human-like. It was the strangest abnormal Levi had ever encountered. He stumbled back, attempting to move away from it. Abnormal as it was, it was still a titan, and he figured it still had a taste for human blood.
"Why did you stab me?"A soft, sad voice asked.
Levi froze again. Had the beast spoken? He turned, clutching his blade, his other hand pressed against his wound. A talking titan, a titan that wore clothing, that was smaller than any other titan he'd ever seen, that looked more human in the face than any other titan, that looked like a small child despite his size. Levi's eyes widened as the titan began to cry, clutching his bleeding hand to his chest.
Levi continued to back away slowly, eyes never leaving the creature, which looked up at him suddenly, then behind him at another titan which was racing for him at full speed. Levi cursed, turning and attempting to run to the trees, his ankle giving out beneath him. He cried out in surprise when the small titan lunged forward, grabbing him with its uninjured hand. The titan was protecting him!? The small titan cradled him like a child would hold a doll, and ran, the bigger titan chasing for a moment before getting left in the dust. The small titan was fast. Very fast.
Levi cringed, clinging to the titan and feeling as though he might soon be dropped, but the small titan did not drop him. The small titan eventually slowed, looking around before holding Levi out in front of him, his large, yet startlingly small hand only big enough to wrap around Levi's midsection, holding him as gently as one would hold a dying bird. "Are you hurt?" The titan asked, his voice oddly soft.
Levi simply stared at him, eyes still rather wide, the broken blade still clutched in his hand.
The titan furrowed his brow, sitting down and slowly reaching towards Levi with his free hand. Levi flinched, but the titan was gentle, using a single finger to stroke back a lock of Levi's hair without jarring his head even a little. "Can you talk?" It asked.
"I… yes…" Levi had lost his composure. It took a lot to do that to him. To say the least, this was a lot. He shook his head, attempting to recover from the shock which he found still had a hold of him. A talking titan, that possessed human intelligence, and was small enough that it could be considered an abnormally large human as easily as it could be considered an abnormally small titan. "What are you?" He asked, his eyes narrow once more. He was slowly regaining his composure, and his guard was still up. The titan didn't seem to want to eat him but… it was still a titan.
"What am I? I don't know, what are you?" It replied with a soft laugh, stroking back a lock of its feathery black hair.
"I'm human." Levi told it strongly. "What are you?"
The titan tipped its head to the side, raising an eyebrow in obvious confusion. "I don't know. Right, so that's what you little people are called. Humans..."
Levi raised his own eyebrow. "What? You don't know what you are?" He asked.
"I… no… not really." It shrugged, gently setting Levi down in his other hand, so the man was sitting in his palm.
"Where did you come from?" Levi asked, a hand going back to his wound, which was burning terribly.
"I don't know. I've lived around here for only a couple moons. I traveled here from that way." He waved vaguely in the opposite direction of the cities within the walls.
"Where did you learn to speak?" Levi asked, glancing at the wound he'd created on the titan's hand, and noting that it was not steaming, nor was it showing signs of healing. He furrowed his brow in thought, turning back to look at the small titans' face.
"I didn't know you had to learn how to speak. I just always have." He responded quietly. "Do you… humans, have names?" He asked, curiously taking hold of Levi's leg with his free hand, but was as gentle as ever. He smoothed his fingers over Levi's knee-high boot, curiously inspecting how tiny the man's leg was compared to his fingers.
Levi flinched again, but tried not to react otherwise. It would do no good to trigger the beast into titan mode. He was still convinced that even this astonishingly gentle titan had one. "Levi." He responded.
"Levi? That's a strange name. My name is Lucerne."
Levi furrowed his brow. "Lucerne…?"
"Like the flower." Lucerne replied with a nod. "Are you injured, Levi?" He gently ran a finger over the blood on Levi's side, and the man winced. Lucerne looked concerned. "Poor human." He murmured sadly.
Levi panted, in pain, looking up at Lucerne, everything he'd ever known, everything he'd ever been told, ever seen and believed was being thrown out the window by this strange titan, this strange… person. How could he possibly be a titan? He was so drastically dissimilar to even the most abnormal of titans. "You… don't eat humans?" Levi asked quietly, watching him closely and waiting for his answer.
Lucerne's face twisted slightly. "I want to eat you as badly as you want to eat me, Levi."
"I don't want to eat you even in the slightest."
"Well then there you go." Lucerne smiled at him, his big, lovely black eyes sparkling with amusement.
Levi stared at him for a long moment, then winced, falling back against Lucerne's palm, his eyes closing, his face twisted in pain.
Lucerne's smile vanished. "Please don't die!" He whimpered, his other hand moving to hover over Levi in a protective manner, as if he were shielding him from rain.
Levi laughed quietly, blinking weakly. "I don't think I have much say in the matter… I've lost a lot of blood." He murmured.
"Um… um…" Lucerne looked around wildly. "How can I fix that? What can I do?" He begged, cradling Levi gently against his chest.
"I need to get back to civilization, to doctors." He murmured painfully.
"You mean to the wall? That's a long ways from here. I could get you there, but there's usually a lot of titans around the wall, we'd have trouble getting passed them." Lucerne murmured.
Levi's eyes flashed open. "Did you say titans?" He sat up on his elbows, eyes wide.
"Um… yes?" Lucerne looked confused.
Levi's eyes widened further. "But… you said you aren't aware of what you are…"
Lucerne tipped his head to the side. "I'm... not. I'm just… not a titan."
AN: So, I've had this storyline playing over in my head for a while now and I finally decided to write it down... let me know what you think, and if you notice any errors please let me know.