Heroes exist everywhere, they just go unsung...
Shingeki no Kyojin
Survey Corps squad member, under Squad Leader Mike Zacharius, Eliza Rohrbeck, made one final stop at her mother's house before heading back to duty.
The village of Ragako lay in the southern area of Wall Rose, the fifty-meter high wall towering over everything else in sight, extending from left to right as far as they eye could see, enclosing the land all around, including the four districts matching the compass rose: Trost, to the south; Karanese, to the east; Klorva, to the west; and Utopia, to the north.
"Things have been rowdy ever since the mess in Trost District," Eliza said, her fingers laced around the chinaware cup. She had golden, shoulder-length hair with a braid dangling behind her neck and two bangs framing her face and sapphire eyes. "Mike wants me back near Wall Shina to help supervise a number of Survey Corps members that he has reason to believe are in league with the Titan that trashed most of Trost."
"You're going out soon, right?" her mother asked, a woman in her fifties, her hair tied in a bun, graying with the years. She gave Eliza the same look every time it was time for her to join her Squad for a mission, even if it involved less risk than expeditions beyond the walls. The Survey Corps wasn't popular for a soldier's longevity.
"It's a simple assignment, Mother," Eliza replied, giving her an encouraging smile. "We're both going to be inside the same wall the whole time, only separated by distance. I'll be back after the assignment is over, if Mike allows it. I won't be gone for long."
"I know, it's just…" her mother went on, hesitating for a second, looking down at her unfinished tea. "It's a cruel world out there. Always remember that. Always be ready for the unexpected or the unthinkable."
Eliza's arduous training to become a member of the Survey Corps had already drilled that into her mind. But she knew better than to say anything about it to her mother. Her heart wasn't in a good condition nowadays. Eliza feared that her mother's heart would give up and collapse any time; adding to her worries every time she had to go on missions only made it worse. She looked over at the photograph standing on the cupboard. Her father's eyeglasses gleamed from the camera's flash. If only he hadn't vanished just like that, now that we need him most, she thought, rising to her feet from the wooden chair.
Eliza hugged her mother, like that was the last day she would ever see her, just like every time she did before heading out to missions. Any day could be her mother's last day… or her own. The tears were also present with every farewell.
When they broke apart, Eliza said: "Rest well, and don't worry about me. Or I have to worry about your heart instead." Her mother released a laugh clearly constrained with sadness. "Trust me, this is a short assignment, for now. I'll try to be back as soon as it's over. Squad Leader Mike understands your condition and he'll give me leave to come visit you."
"Take care, Eliza. Always stay close to your squad members," her mother said, her eyes glistening.
"As always, Mother."
"Don't leave your cloak," her mother said, unhanging the olive-colored cape from the chair's backrest, the Survey Corps symbol emblazoned on its back.
"I'll see you soon," Eliza said, taking it and draping the cloak over her shoulders. After one last hug, she went out through the kitchen's backdoor, and waving back at her mother with an infectious smile, she went around the small, thatched house and entered the stable.
Eliza unfastened her chestnut gelding, a muscled creature bred for stamina and speed, from the wooden beams and led it outside by the reins, its steel-clad hooves crunching the straw-covered ground. A green sack hung by the horse's harness, where Eliza stored her 3D Maneuver Gear while off-duty.
"Siegmund, my good boy," she crooned, brushing the horse' mane. "We have a long ride today." And true to that, Eliza had a few hours to make it to the mission's location and join her squad, somewhere close to Wall Shina.
Something caught her eye before mounting her saddle: a big, shady figure that she could barely make out due to the distance, standing tall at the top of Wall Rose, a couple kilometers away. Her eyes widened. Could it be a Titan? It can't be. She thought. There were no other soldiers she could call out to in that village, no one but her.
Eliza untied the harness' sack and drew out her 3D Maneuver Gear, as fast as its complexity allowed it. She tied the straps around her thighs and her waist, securing the belt for each one. She hooked the vertical maneuvering device, a small black barrel that contained coils after coils of steel wire, connected to the belt behind her back. And finally, she took out the scabbards with the blades sheathed inside and tied them tight on each of her legs, each scabbard holding a metal, gray cylinder on top of them, containing compressed gas for midair propulsion.
Mounting her chestnut gelding, Eliza steered it around toward Wall Rose instead and prodded it with her stirrups in its flanks, commanding the horse to gallop as fast as it could. She rode down the downtrodden, muddy roads of Ragako village, past timber houses, inns, stables loud with snorting horses, and the small village church. The thing standing on top of Wall Rose seemed to be doing nothing, just watching the vast, green scenery of the fields within the wall.
Eliza wasn't sure what kind of madness was it that prompted her to ride toward Wall Rose and the Titan: probably all those years of training and first-hand experience during expeditions; perhaps a zealous sense of duty to protect mankind that pervaded her entire life as trainee and Survey Corps member.
Rider and horse streaked through the green, grassy field, covering hundreds of meters, a kilometer, two kilometers. The closer she got to the Wall and the Titan standing on it, the more she could make out what it was: most likely a Deviant Type Titan, a seventeen meters class. She had never seen its kind before, nor had she ever heard of it in her numerous missions. The Titan had ape-like features, its body covered in black, thick fur, its arms sinewy and long, nearly touching the floor as it seemed to half-drag them when it walked.
Eliza jumped off her steed and drawing out her blades, she pulled the hilt's trigger, the hook firing from her waist and zooming diagonally in the air, sticking in the hard wall. Next, the gas pumped from the sheaths' cylinders and gushed out her backside, shoving her up into the air and darting up the height of the wall to where the hook had injected itself. Holding on tight to the wire, her feet pressed hard against the wall, she jumped back and quickly fired another hook even higher up the wall.
Quickly, Eliza reached the top of the fifty-meter wall, and glided over the edge, landing on a squat, drawing her blades up to her chest, and facing the Beast Titan as it looked down on her, a hint of boredom in its eyes.
"Are you going to tell me how you did that?" the Beast Titan suddenly spoke, his voice heavy, strong, guttural and spine-chilling. Eliza went speechless.
This one talks?
"Surprised, are you?"
"How…?" Eliza began, her voice breaking.
"You're one of a kind, brave enough to come this close to me," the Beast Titan said. "Anyone else would've turned tail."
"How did you get on top of the Wall?" Eliza asked, surveying its height. Seventeen meters tall, a few more meters added in if it held its long arms overhead, and there's no way it could have jumped and grabbed the wall's edge and pulled itself onto its feet, not with its weight. Or could it?
"How did you get on top of the Wall?" he asked, too, making something that could only resemble a mocking smile with its gorilla facial features.
Eliza wanted to be hopeful. "Are you… on our side?" she asked, lowering her blades a little.
"Might be. So tell me, how did you do that?"
"Get up here?" she asked, frowning.
"No, I saw how you did that," the Beast Titan replied, his small sharp teeth crowning the inside of its mouth. "I mean, that," he said, pointing toward the village of Ragako. "You didn't turn."
Eliza struggled to find what he meant by that, for a second, looking out toward Ragako, her mother's village, over the top of the world. When it dawned on her, she shrieked with terror, covering her mouth, her eyes tearing up with sheer despair. Houses and buildings crumbled to their foundations in mounds of debris as dozens of Titans trashed the village.
"No!" Eliza screamed, running to the edge of the wall and falling to her knees on the rough stone. She could still not believe her eyes, tears dripping down her cheeks and down the gigantic height of the wall, dispelling in the air. When would she awake from this nightmare?
"You did this?" she asked, raising her voice. The wall wasn't breached, yet Titans snuck right under her nose to lay waste to the village of Ragako. You didn't turn, the Beast Titan had said. "You did this!" Eliza shouted, her voice trembling with uncontained fury. But she knew now. She had to warn Mike, or anyone at all. Everyone had to know at all costs: Humans turning into Titans, and that Beast Titan was behind it.
The Beast Titan roared with laughter, its booming voice exploding across the field like a shockwave. Eliza shut her eyes and covered her ears.
"I believe…" the Beast Titan said, with that deformed mocking grin of his, "…we're at an impasse."
Eliza glanced down, at the dizzying heights of Wall Rose, the trees dwarfed and her horse the size of a kid's toy. If she could drop down, mount and speed around the village and band of Titans, she could make it to Wall Shina, or at least try to warn any other neighboring villages.
"What's that thing around your waist called?" the Beast Titan asked. He took a small stride toward Eliza, but for his size, he closed the gap in less than a second. Eliza took several steps backward. He crouched down before Eliza. She fell on her butt and scrambled backward as her heart jolted up to her throat. "Don't be like that, it's just a question."
Eliza glanced quickly between the Beast Titan's face, so close to hers, and back down to her 3D Maneuver Gear. She knew better than to reveal it to the enemy.
"May I take a look?" the Beast Titan asked, rather kindly. He hovered his enormous hand over Eliza. Before it could touch her, she rolled to the side and off the edge of the wall. "Eh, I'll ask the next one I come across," he said, scratching his ear.
Eliza shrieked. Wind whipped wildly at her face, rushing in her ears, her hair tangling and lashing as she plummeted and the earth zoomed in at an incredible speed, while she rolled and turned in the air. Shortly, before crashing, she pulled the trigger and the hook flew to the wall, the compressed gas stopping her headlong free-fall and yanking her toward it.
Eliza fired the other hook lower down the wall, near the grass, and zipped toward it, dropping on the soft, prickly pasture, which she hadn't realized she would welcome so much like never before. She staggered to her feet and mounted her gelding, Siegmund.
"Go!" she cried out, as soon as she held the reins in her hands and jammed the stirrups in the horse's flank. The horse neighed, but almost immediately, Eliza forced it to stop, yanking back the reins. Her heart thumping hard in her chest, the air was knocked out of her lungs. Dozens of Titans, three-meter to five-meter to fifteen-meter tall classes, came lumbering toward her from all directions, enclosing her in a circle that kept shrinking every second.
"Stop!" the Beast Titan's voice boomed out. The Titans stopped moving, rooted to their spots. Eliza whipped her head above, toward the top of the wall. The Beast Titan lowered itself over the edge, and dangled in their air, its ape-like hands clutching the corner, before dropping down a good twenty-five meters and landing in a squat, the land shuddering.
"So tell me," he said, rising tall and slouching down again in front of Eliza. "Why didn't you turn, like them?" He gestured toward the Titans. "What's your family name?"
"Rohrbeck," she managed to say, her voice breaking.
"That's probably not even your real name," the Beast Titan said, with his booming laughter. "Your bloodline does not correspond," he said, now dead serious. "And finally, are you sure you don't want to tell me what that thing on your waist is?"
Eliza peered at the Titans, their dumb faces staring at her hungrily, drool leaking over their mouths. One of them might have been her own mother. No escape, unless…
"Get her," the Beast Titan said, all of a sudden. The Titans shambled forward, a few of them attempting to sprint clumsily.
Eliza untangled her legs from the saddle stirrups and pivoted toward the wall, the hook flying and securing near the top. The compressed gas sent her skyward, zipping as the wind whipped at her face, her olive-colored cloak lashing.
A black, hairy hand thrust forward and gripped the steel wire higher above and pulled it down with a savage jerk. Having just risen into the air, Eliza went down, crashing and rolling on the grass before coming to a stop. One of her bones stuck out of her calf, her arms bent at odd angles.
The ground shuddered with each massive step the Beast Titan took. He crouched down above Eliza and took hold delicately of the vertical maneuvering device on her back, the one containing the wire coils. It broke down to pieces.
"I'll get the next one," he said, standing upright and turning his back to Eliza. "It was an interesting chat." He lumbered off.
Siegmund neighed and went galloping off, past and under Titan's legs that paid no mind at all to the screeching horse.
Eliza lay there, broken. Humans turned into Titans. The Beast Titan was behind it. She carried those secrets crucial for humanity's salvation. The rest of the villages needed to be evacuated, and the government told of the outbreak within Wall Rose.
Her sight was already leaving her as a five-meter class Titan appeared out of the edges of her darkened vision. Its hands wrapped cruelly around her torso and they carried her into a dark pit crowned with white, square teeth.
The Titans set out to Wall Shina…
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