It's funny how you sometimes misses someone, and you don't even realize that you missed them until they're there in front of you.
I hope you like this chapter and that you guys leave a review with your thoughts on the chapter - as well as questions to my daily question - which I love reading :3
«I do not own any of the following pictures, music, characters or the original universe. Nor do I own the Christmas Calendar or its content. I only own this Christmas story and the mixing idea.»
For practical purposes, Hange Zoë will be referred to with female pronouns. The character's gender has not been confirmed by the creator, so there is still a mystery about what is the truth of it. However, because it is hard to write around the pronouns, I chose the female gender because this is what they used for the English dub of the Anime. I hope that you all understand my reasoning for this, and that if you have another opinion on the gender, you can still replace the pronouns while reading.
The morning had passed by in quiet. Nobody wanted to point it out, but when Rico and Sasha had set out on the 7th, the plan had been for them to return late on the 9th or early on the 10th. The early hours had come and past, and still there had been no sign of the girls.
After breakfast, they had been sent to their daily activities. However, what they did today was something quite different from what they had done so far. Although they were stationed outside the walls, when it came to titan activity, it had been quiet. This was of course a relief, but there was a negative aspect to it - the soldiers hadn't gotten the training they needed. Of course they could use the walls and towers of their new home, but the training that that would give them was not what they would need when going out to fight Titans. No, they needed somewhere else to train.
That decided, Commander Erwin Smith put together a team and sent them out in search of a new training ground. One could argue whether or not there were any picking out involved at all, because Levi had spent the last few days moping around, wanting to get out of the house. When that choice was made, it came as no surprise that the ones going with him were the members of the special operations squad.
The group had set out on horses as soon as they could, and they were not expected to be back for quite a while. This piece of news came as a joy to some. With Levi out of the house, it was now possible to move around with shoes inside, or leave the dirty dishes on the table while visiting the bathroom.
Some who enjoyed this newfound freedom were the group of boys from the 104th squad. They had gathered around the table - or rather: partly on the table. They were leaning back towards the wall, kicking their feet up on the table - with shoes still on their feet.
Up 'til now they had been discussing what else they would be able to do now that Levi was away, but then a comment about food had made them think of Sasha, and a silence fell over the room.
"Do you think something happened to them?" Jean asked.
"Don't say that!" Connie urged.
Bertolt shook his head, a worried expression on his face. "If you say that then..."
Jean raised a brow towards his taller comrade. He had always known that Bertolt was the softer one of the Reintolt duo, but to this degree… Well, he guessed there were many things that were still unknown.
"So..." Reiner coughed, clearing the silence. "We have the day off. We shouldn't just sit here."
Agreeing, Jean nodded.
"Should we go outside?" suggested Bertolt. "Then we would be able to see them if they-"
"Stop it, Bert." Although it might have come across as harsh, there was no ill will in his words. Reiner had know Bertolt ever since they were kids and he knew how much his friend cared about those around him. It had always been his strength, but also the biggest of a curse for a soldier to have. "Try not to think too much about them. It will do nothing-"
The yell from outside made all those gathered around the table jump to their feet. And, without delay, they stormed through the door to see what was going on.
And there, sliding in through the gate as they were watching, they arrived.
"They're here!" Bertolt shouted in joy. He rushed over to the sleigh to wish them welcome when- "A-Annie?!"
In the sleigh, in between a tall pile of pelts and one of boxed meat, sat none other than Annie Leonhart.
Looking at the two girls, Jean turned to Sasha. "What happened to Rico? Is she not here?"
"No," The previous Commander jumped out of the sleigh. "Squad Leader Rico Brzenska decided to cut her internship early. Returning to wall Sheena, she realized that she couldn't afford to stay any longer and that the earlier the rulers got the knowledge from her trip, the better." He looked around at those that had gathered in the courtyard. "I see you did well. Not many survive the hard life of a soldier, and that is especially true for the scout regiment. I guess I did a good job for once."
Not knowing what to say, they nodded back attentively. Back when they had been recruits and first had had the pleasure to make their acquaintance with the bald man, they had all feared him. To them, Keith Shadis had been a big and crude man, and the enemy of fun. Still, through his hard training and harsh handling, they had been able to tap into the best of themself. They hadn't seen it back then, but seeing him now, they realized that that was the truth, and that Shadis indeed had been a great help to their survival.
"So... " Jean hesitated. "Are you here in her place, sir?"
"Not happy to see me, are you?"
"No, that's not-"
A burst of laughter from the older man's throat cut off Jean's apology and left him perplexed. "sir?"
"Oh, haha, it's fine, son." Getting his laughter under control, Keith viped his eyes and blew his nose. "I'm used to it. All soldiers under my responsibility holds hate for me. Not that it isn't justified - I admit that I am too hard on my recruits."
Suddenly, the tense atmosphere lifted, and they all felt their shoulders loosen up. Helping Annie and Sasha down from the sleigh, they began taking the new resources off the wagon and into the house.
"How about this one?" Reiner held up a ball of hay.
"Oh, let's see" Mike Zacharias walked up to it and began sniffing. After a few seconds - or an awkward eternity in the opinion of Reiner - Mike nodded to himself. "This one is for the horses. One ball should be opened and spread out on the floor, while the rest should be stacked in the back of the building - in the little room."
"Right." Reiner nodded and was on his way to to the stables, when Mike continued:
"Not this type though,"
"Huh? What?" Looking over his shoulder, Reiner raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean 'not this type'?"
"There are two types of hay here," The blonde man explained. "It's the empty one meant for the horses, and then there is this one." He reach into the sleigh and pulled out something that looked pretty much like the ball Reiner already held in his arms.
"These are not simple hay, but barley." Mike took a deep whiff of the stuff - the barley - and smiled. "These are of good quality - I see the Commander did good on his promise of giving a little extra for this Christmas tradition."
"Okay?" Reiner asked, still confused. How Mike could get so into the smells of things was a mystery for him - especially now. Hay? What was so interesting about a friggin ball of hay?
"We've cleared out the basement, already."
"Oh, hi, Gunther. I thought you were out with the Captain."
Gunther nodded. "I was. We were riding for a while in the search for a fitting training area, and finally we found one accepted by the Captain. It was a good spot indeed, and the rest of the group is still there to clean it up."
"Ah, I see."
"And I was sent back to make sure that the basement was ready for this… hobby of yours."
Looking almost offended, Mike straightened to his considerable height to look down upon Gunther. "It's not just a hobby. This is for the good of all of us - even the Commander thinks it's a good idea."
If the group hadn't known better, they might not have recognized the appearance of a frown on the member of the special operations squad. "Well, I don't think so, and the Captain didn't look too pleased when he heard about it either."
The silence that followed felt even more uncomfortable than the one earlier, and who knows how long it might have dragged on for, if it hadn't been for the shriek from the stables.
Storming towards the stables, Bertolt's head was filled with images of Titans. Could they have arrived together with the sleigh? Were they under attack? "Why now? Of all times?"
"Annie! Are you-" He stopped abruptly as his eyes took in what was in front of him. "... okay?"
In the stable, on the floor in between the gigantic troughs of water, laid Annie, her body covered with a good mix of what seemed to have been water and horse feces.
Ignoring him, Annie hurried to push herself back on her feet. Avoiding his eyes, she grabbed onto the trough beside her and swung herself back onto her feet as if nothing had happened.
"Are you okay?"
"... I'm fine."
"What happened? Did you slip and fall?"
"..." Ignoring him, she continued sweeping the floor.
"What's wrong?" Gunter turned the corner and took in the situation. "What is going on?"
"Nothing, sir." Annie straightened her posture.
Gunther let out a snort. "It didn't sound like it was nothing." His eyes narrowed, "Please "
"Yes, sir." Annie cut her tall friend off. "I will."
Confused, Bertolt looked at his friend questionly, but once again she avoided his eyes.
"I see some things never change." Keith Shadis had made his way over to them and, having observed the conversation he sighed. "You're still as talkative as ever, cadet Leonhart."
"So, how about you?
"Me?" Bertold blinked. "Well, I'm..."
Keith nodded as if he had gotten the answer he was looking for. Then, hearing footsteps in the snow, he turned. "Ah, commander Erwin Smith."
Keith let out a snort, but his eyes hid a smile. "It's been too long, Erwin. How is everything holding up?"
A dark shadow fell across the Commander's face. "It could have been worse."
"I see." Keith nodded in understanding.
He himself had also been the commander of the scouts once. Times of success were rare for their group. No matter what they achieved, there was always a price to pay - a price measured in sacrifices, in limbs, and lives lost. It was hard, seeing them fall around you while knowing that you were the one who made the decision that sent them to their graves. It was enough to make a strong man wake up to wet pillows each morning.
"Do you still have it?" Keith asked, eyes twinkling.
"Let's talk later. Right now, I feel like a good cup of coffee would do you well."
"Gunther. Make sure the coffee is ready." Receiving a nod from the soldier, he turned his attention back on Keith. "Until it's done, do you mind if I ask you a something? "
"This castle… You've been here before, haven't you?"
The imposing ex-commander nodded. "Many years ago, when I first received the title of Commander. Why do you ask?"
Looking deep into the face of the older man. Erwin asked what had been on his mind this entire month: "Do you know something about any mystical Christmas calendar?"
"Mystical calendar? No, I'm afraid I don't." He shook in head. "What is it?"
Sighing, Erwin leaned back against the wall. "It's something one of my men found when we first moved into this place. Armin Arlert?"
Keith nodded. He recognized the name. "The little, smart kid, with the blond hair. Yeah, I remember him well."
Erwin nodded, and so he began telling the story of the Calendar and the little pieces of paper within. About the story and about the girl, Elisabet, and the rest of the strange travelers. Keith listened, and as everything was told, he looked distantly into the air.
"No, I can't say I've heard of anything like that. As I said, it's been many, many years since I was stationed here, and even then, I wasn't much down in the basement - that was where the researchers worked on their experiments and read books." He laid a heavy hand on Erwin's shoulder. "So no, I haven't heard any talk of it. They might have known about it, for all I know - they didn't talk much about what was down there. It was a time where there were few to none discoveries, and this 'calendar' you are talking about doesn't sound like it would have had any connection to the advances of the human race."
"I see..." Erwin helt as his heart fell hard. Not that he had expected the ex-commander to know all about the mystical Christmas Calendar, but as he had been informed of his arrival, Erwin had let himself feel hope that there might be some answers.
There hadn't been.
Still, raising his head up; looking at the clear sky above them, Erwin told himself what he had been telling himself for the last week - the calendar might have some answers built into it.
Outside, Bertolt hadn't moved much. It had been such a long time since he had been able to see Annie and talk with her. In his mind, their reunion would have smiles - or at least a little one - but all that he had received so far was a dark stare, before she continued on her work in the stables.
"Hey there, Staretolt."
Swirling around, his ears suddenly burning as if on fire, Bertolt found Reiner standing behind him.
"Come on, Bert. You're gonna end up a creep if you keep looking at her like a creep."
"What?!" The red color got more intense and moved to his cheek. "N-No, I-I didn't s-stare."
"Aha?" Reiner gave him a look, banishing Bertolt's hopes to explain the situation away entirely. "Well, it's your lucky day, buddy. Why don't we go have a little chat with her?"
Armin had just opened the window marked with the number '10' and picked out the little piece of paper, when his attention was grabbed by the picture hiding inside the window. There, on something that reminded him of churches, were something else as well. He couldn't quite make out what it was, but there was something white.
Giving up analyzing the picture, Armin headed downstairs. However, as he passed the windows, something made him stop. There, by the stable. He looked closer. Yes, it really was Annie. He had heard of her arrival, but he had yet to see her. Armin had already decided to head out at once, when he noticed who she was talking with.
"Huh, I didn't know she were that good friends with them."
So, instead of going outside, Armin went down to the others - all sitting around the table with a nice cup of coffee or tea each.
Erwin nodded and accepted the piece of paper before reading.
The tenth of December: Impuriel
… a few seconds later what Elisabet had thought was a bird took off
and flew down in a spiral towards the pilgrims …
It happened at Paderborn at the end of the thirteenth century. Into the little town halfway between Hanover and Cologne rushed a frisky ﬂock of sheep, followed by two shepherds, a black king, a little girl and an angel with wings outspread.
It was early in the morning before the town was awake; only a night watchman was out in the streets. He called out sternly to the two shepherds who were chasing their ﬂock of sheep through the town. The next moment he caught sight of the angel hovering above the cobblestones. Then he raised his arms to the sunrise and exclaimed, 'Alleluia! Alleluia!'
Whereupon he retreated round a corner and left the streets to the godly procession.
They stopped in front of a church in the middle of the town.
'That's St Bartholomew's Church,' said Ephiriel. 'It was built in the eleventh century and is called after one of Jesus's twelve apostles. It is told of Bartholomew that he journeyed all the way to India to tell the Indians about Jesus.'
Elisabet had noticed something strange. She pointed up at the spire on the church tower.
'There's a white bird sitting up there,' she said.
Ephiriel smiled. 'If only there were,' he said.
A few seconds later, what Elisabet had thought was a bird took off and ﬂew down in a spiral towards the pilgrims. She realised that the bird wasn't a bird after all. What had been sitting on the church spire was an angel. But it was not a grown angel: it was no larger than she was herself.
The child angel alighted at Elisabet's feet.
'Wonderful!' he exclaimed. 'My name is Impuriel and I'm coming with you to Bethlehem.'
He whirled around a bit, peered up at Caspar and the two shepherds, then looked up at Ephiriel and said, 'I've been waiting for a quarter of an eternity.'
Caspar stood thinking. It was obvious he had something on his mind.
'A quarter of an eternity,' he began. 'That's about 66,289 years . .. or about 156,498 years . . . or more exactly, 439 million 811 thousand 977 years and 4 seconds . . . or perhaps even a little more. It's not easy to say how long a quarter of an eternity lasts. First you have to ﬁnd out how long a whole eternity lasts, then you have to divide it by four, but exactly how long a whole eternity lasts is very difﬁcult to calculate. No matter which number you start with, eternity will last even longer. So one can say that a quarter of an eternity is as long as a whole eternity. Even a thousandth of an eternity is really just as long as the whole of the rest of eternity. This is extremely difﬁcult to understand, for calculating whole or half eternities is a matter for heaven alone.'
The angel Impuriel looked offended. 'But I've been sitting on top of the church tower for hours,' he said.
'Very possibly, but that's not the same as sitting there for a quarter of an eternity,' said Caspar.
To avoid a quarrel between the Wise Man and the cherub, and not just a quarter of a quarrel, Joshua struck the cobblestones with his crook, and said, 'To Bethlehem! To Bethlehem!'
They set off through the town and out along roads and cattle trails. Impuriel sprang in front of the ﬁve sheep, so the pilgrimage was guarded by angels at both ends.
They saw many towns and villages, but didn't stop until they came to the old Roman colonial city of Cologne on the bank of the River Rhine. Ephiriel had explained that their route through Europe had been planned so that they should be seen by as few people as possible.
'Angel-time says it's 1272 years after Christ,' he said. 'They've begun building the great cathedral of Cologne, but it won't be ﬁnished for hundreds of years.'
Joshua banged with his crook: 'To Bethlehem! To Bethlehem!'
Impuriel said, 'Glorious countryside, isn't it? We're going up the Rhine Valley. There are fortresses and castles, steep Vineyards and Gothic cathedrals, dandelions and rhubarb.'
They hurried along the bank of the biggest river Elisabet had ever seen. The valley became narrower and narrower and the mountains higher and higher. They ran past small towns and villages. Out on the river ﬂoated an occasional barge.
As they sped through the beautiful landscape, Elisabet turned towards Ephiriel and asked whether he had met Impuriel before.
'All the angels in heaven have known each other through all eternity,' said Ephiriel, laughing.
'Are there an awful lot of you?'
'Yes, a whole host.'
'How can you all know each other, then?'
'We've had the whole of eternity to get to know each other, and you see, that's a very long time.'
Elisabet had to think hard so as to understand what Ephiriel meant.
The angel explained a bit more.
'If you have a party that lasts for three hours, you shouldn't invite more than ﬁve or six guests, and then everyone will be able to talk to everyone else. But if the party lasts for three whole days, you can easily have ﬁfty or more guests.' '
Elisabet nodded. She had discussed this with Mama when it was her birthday.
'So?' she said.
'The heavenly party has lasted for all eternity,' said Ephiriel.
'Do all the angels have different names?'
'Of course. Otherwise we couldn't call out to each other. Otherwise we wouldn't have been persons either.'
And Ephiriel began to say all the angel names, one after the other.
'The angels in heaven are called Ariel, Beriel, Curruciel, Daniel, Ephiriel, Fabiel, Gabriel, Hammarubiel, Immanuel, Joachiel, Chachaduriel, Luxuriel, Michael, Narriel . . .'
'That's enough!' said Elisabet. 'How long would it take you to say all the angel names?'
'I would have to go on for all eternity.'
'That's pretty good going, to remember all the names by heart,' said Elisabet.
'With all of eternity at your disposal it's not so difﬁcult.'
'And I think it's very clever to think up so many different names all ending in -el,' Elisabet went on.
Ephiriel nodded. 'God's imagination is inﬁnite, just as there are inﬁnitely many stars in the sky. No angel is exactly like another, nor are humans either. You can make a thousand identical machines, but they are so easy to make that even a human can do it.'
Finally the angel Ephiriel spoke some words that Elisabet hid in her heart. 'Every person on earth is a unique work of creation.'
It was already evening when the rest of the special operations squad and the captain finally returned. All looked tired, but pleased. Food was put on the table, and as they ate, they told about the new training grounds.
"That sounds promising," Erwin gave a pleased nodd. "Could we take it in use as soon as this week?"
Levi nodded. It shouldn't be a problem.
"Good. Then we will make plans for that." Erwin rose from his chair. "Everyone should get some sleep. Tomorrow will be another long day." He looked around on the soldiers as they got onto their feet as well, when his eyes fell onto the two new guests. "That's right. We have yet to find you two somewhere to sleep."
"Keith, unfortunately we don't have any extra rooms. Would you mind bunking with Mike and Hange?"
Keith shrugged his shoulders. "A bed is a bed, isn't it? As long as I'm given a bed, I won't complain."
"How about you, Annie?" Erwin smiled to the girl. "I presume you'd rather share a room with your peers. It's been some time since you last saw them, right?"
"So," Erwin continued: "Unfortunately the girl's room is all filled up, but there are still vacant beds both in room 4 and room 5."
Hearing their room number, Jean held up four fingers while giving her a cheeky wink; receiving a facepalm from Reiner and a shy smile from Bertolt.
This was followed by the younger boys from room 5 grinning at her. Although the high-five between Connie and Eren was a bit unsettling, she appreciated the smile Armin sent her.
"Annie. How about-"
"I'll stay with room 5" Annie answered, her answer stringent and clear.
Reiner looked at her, a weird glint in his eye, then, shrugging his shoulders, it was gone.
"Nice!" Connie smiled from ear to ear. In his head, the fact that he was going to share a room with a girl was as nailed to his focus as nothing else.
"Yes. It's going to be nice to have you there." Armin nodded. He had also missed Annie. He wasn't quite sure why she was there, but he still appreciated having her around. Although they had few things in common, the few talks they had had, had been good. Having her there just seemed right somehow.
So, how about you? Are you gonna meet up with friends or family
- that you usually don't hand with - this Christmas?
Please leave a review with your thoughts, okay?
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