The Cleaning out of Trost

The city fell away beneath the supply elevator that carried cannonballs, blades, gas canisters and two senior members of the Scout Regiment to the top of the wall.

"When we're done, I'd like to meet his boy in person," Erwin said. "See if he really is what I think he is."

"Assuming he's still alive," Levi answered, as he stepped off the elevator.

"I meant what I said about keeping civilians out of this fight," Erwin raised his voice to be heard above the firing of the canons. "I had to threaten the MPs. They will be going over this operation with a fine tooth comb looking for anything they can use against us."

"But he is a civilian. Which means he's not obligated to obey our orders."

"We are under martial law. He does have to obey."

"He's also a teenager, which means he probably won't listen." Levi stared Erwin straight in the eye daring him to negate that point.

There really was no answer to that, so Erwin turned his attention to the small command tent. "Hange! Report!"

She turned in response to his voice. "Sir!" She saluted in obvious relief and handed him the ceremonial baton indicating he was now in command. "We estimate the Garrison's cannons here in the northwest quarter have cleared between a third to half the Titans trapped in Trost. Small teams have cleared the southeastern quarter and have begun sweeping the northeastern quarter. We've cleared the southwestern quarter three times, but the Titans keep doubling back. We're not sure why. The Garrison reports that the Titans honed in on Erin when he was carrying the boulder, ignoring humans. They are wondering if maybe there's another Titan shifter there, calling them away from the cannons. But that's pure speculation."

Erwin got a thoughtful look on his face.

"Where's my squad?" Levi said.

"Southwest," Hange answered. "Right in the thick of it."

Levi nodded. "And the kid?"

"With them," she answered.

"Peachy." Levi rolled his eyes and turned to go.

"Just a moment, Levi," Erwin said. "Hange, you said you thought there might be another Titan shifter in the southwest quarter. The kid is there."

The two stopped and considered the commander's meaning. Levi shook his head. "He's not a Titan."

"How do you know?" Erwin said. "The Colossal Titan showed up yesterday morning, kicked in the gate and vanished. Later that morning, we found this kid out in Titan country alone. What makes you sure he's not one of them?"

"Instinct," Levi said.

"Timing," Hange said. The men looked at her. "The Colossus kicked in the southern gate of Trost in the early morning. We found the kid west of the walls mid morning. There's no way he could have covered that much ground in that amount of time in human form. Not even if he had a horse, which he didn't. A 15 or 20 meter Titan couldn't do it either. Maybe the Colossal Titan could with those super long legs of his, but the patrols on the wall would have seen him go and we would have seen him coming."

•-|—-— —-—|-•

Annie wasn't planning on going into Trost. Her plan was simple. She would wrench her ankle out of joint, say she hadn't noticed the pain in all the excitement yesterday, get some medic to wrap it up, get her out of combat with no stain of cowardice.

"Except that with as many wounded as they have right now, the medics will triage you. Your ankle will heal before they have a chance to see it." Berthold said.

Annie wondered if it was possible to control the rate of healing. She'd have to work on that.

"Whatever," she said. "I say we stick to the plan. We finished in the top 10, we go into the MPs, use that to get close to the king, kidnap him and get the hell out of here."

"Except the situation has changed," Reiner reminded her. "We know there are Nine Titans. Marley has seven, the Coordinate is eight. We found the missing Titan. It will still count as a success."

"Correction," Annie said, "Marley had seven. We lost the Jaw Titan. I don't intend to go the way of Marcel."

"Reiner's right," Berthold said. "We need to keep their trust if we're going to get close to Erin again."

"Except that Erin is not here," Annie said. "We need to become MPs so we can get to him. And that means we have to be alive. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go see a medic."

"No." Reiner blocked her path. "We are going into that city. We are going to make contact with your Marleian agent, let him know that the last four years have been part of a carefully planned strategy, that we have not been wasting time, so they don't take it out on our families. Then we're going to grab whichever one we can and go home. Got it?"

Annie gritted her teeth, but Reiner won the argument the moment her brought up their families.

•-|—-— —-—|-•


The Levi Squad plus one stood on the eaves of the apartment block as a Titan lumbered down the street.

"I thought these things always made a beeline for the nearest human," Kirito said.

"You know, we've never actually had them penned up like this so I can't actually say it's abnormal," Eld said as the Titan walked right past them. "But it is unexpected."

"An unexpected gift." The moment the monster's back was to them, Oruo launched himself from the roof and sliced the nape is a single pass.

"Maybe we should follow one and see where they're going," Kirito suggested.

"You're starting to sound like Commander Hange." Eld shook his head in amusement. But when an eight meter walked past, he moved to follow.


Levi clung to the side of a clock tower and watched as Eld and the kid pursued a Titan. But they weren't closing in. Were they low on gas? Simply tired? Whatever, it wasn't likely to be good. When the Titan moved past, he zipped in across and took the nape.

"What did you do that for?" Kirito yelled.

"Our job here is to clear out the Titans," Levi said.

"We were trying to figure out what it was doing," Kirito said.

"Titans only do one thing: kill people."

"Yeah, their programming is not very sophisticated," Kirito rolled his eyes. "But there's something weird going on with this bunch."

"He's got a point, Captain," Eld threw in. "They get within this ten block zone and they all turn into abnormals, almost ignoring us."

"Makes for easy pickings, though," Oruo threw in.

"Just leave us this one, ok?" Kirito gestured with his sword at a seven meter waddling down the street.

Just as they said, it moved right past them without even pausing, but then, they were on a rooftop and out of its reach, so Levi wasn't convinced. Levi didn't respond one way or the other, but he turned and jogged along the rooftop, following the Titan.

Loose bricks, splintered timbers and shattered tiles littered the street, slowing the Titan's progress. Two days before, this had been a residential area, and the working class houses had not been reinforced the way the citadel had been. This area had been one of the first swarmed by the incoming Titans and they had kicked through it like a sandcastle.

The Titan slowed down and looked confused for a second. It bent over a picked up a dead body. It held it up to its face, trying to decide if it was food or not before throwing it away like so much rubbish. Eld gritted his teeth. The Titan then spotted a body half buried in the rubble. It shoved aside the collapsed timber frame and extracted the corpse. Again, it looked confused. It threw aside the body and resumed digging.

"There's somebody in that house!" Kirito stepped forward, prepared to launch himself at the Titan, but Levi gabbed his arm.

"Easy, short stuff. There's an entire roof sitting on whoever is down there. We can't move that wreckage but the Titan can. We'll wait until it finds a living person, then we'll swoop in."

Painful minutes crawled by. Another Titan showed up, knelt down and started to dig. The second Titan's body blocked their view of the first's.

"If any more show up, we're going to have to start killing them," Eld shook his head.

"Agreed," Levi said.

More agonizing minutes crept past. Gunther caught up to them and alighted on the rooftop. "What do we have?"

"There's someone trapped in that house down there," Levi said.

Gunther's eyebrows came together. "Captain, that's not a house. That was a school."

"What?" Kirito's head snapped around.

Gunther gestured at the rubble. "Chalkboard, desks, possibly some books over there."

"If that's a school, we can't wait," Kirito prepared to jump.

"School or house, we still can't move that wreckage." Levi reminded him.

Another Titan rounded the corner and started heading their way. Just then, the first Titan reached down into a hole it had cleared. When its hand came out, it had a woman in its grasp. Levi launched himself at the Titan, but not before she screamed out "Run kids! Get out of here! Run away!"

A dozen children poured out of that hole like ants. "Oh fuck!" Eld said.

Kirito was inclined to agree.

"Where the hell is Oruo when you need him? Alright, Gunther, you take the second Titan assuming Captain Levi doesn't beat you to it, I'll take the third. Kirito, you start getting those kids to the rooftops. We'll join you as soon as our Titans are down."

"You got it," Kirito said.

Levi felled his Titan, but in its death throe, it tightened its grip. The woman now screamed in pain rather than fear. Levi turned to the second Titan, but Gunther's grapple was already in its neck. He reeled in the line, but not before the Titan got in one last insult — it scooped up a kid and swallowed it whole. Levi swore under his breath but turned back to the first, now dead, Titan. He leapt forward, slicing its closed fist, freeing the trapped woman. "Can you move?"

She shook her head. "I think my legs are broken. Leave me. Save the rest of the children."

Across the square, Eld dropped his Titan, then Gunther killed his. Kirito… Kirito let out an anguished scream, landed next to Gunther's Titan and began slashing away at the belly.

"Kid!" Levi shouted. He grabbed Kirito from behind and pulled him back. "The Titan is already dead."

"He swallowed that kid whole!" Kirito shouted back.

"I know. I saw it." Levi's voice had that unnaturally calm tone. "But we can't save everyone, shitty as that is."

"No!" Kirito said. "You can live five minutes without air. Your HP bar doesn't hit zero instantly."

Levi released him and watched as Kirito sliced along the lower edge of the rib cage, through skin, fat, and bone then across the upper edge of the stomach itself. A grisly waterfall of digestive fluids, body parts and an entire kid flowed out. Kirito grabbed the kid and pulled him out of the putrid muck. After a moment's shock, the kid let out an enormous wail and clung to a startled Kirito, who clearly had no idea how the deal with a screaming kid. Not that Levi did either.

A voice from behind interrupted the scene. "What's going on, Captain? Why is everybody on the ground?"

"Oruo, about time you showed up."

"Sorry Captain, there were two heading this way."

Levi turned towards the woman. "How many of you are there, total?"

"There were twenty kids and one other teacher."

"Twenty two people in a small space," Levi muttered. "No wonder the Titans kept doubling back." He walked over to the dark hole in the rubble. "Hey, anybody still alive in there?"

After a couple seconds, a frightened voice answered back. "Yes, there's me and eight children. Is it safe to come out?"

"Not yet," Levi said. "Stay there until we tell you." He turned back to his squad. "Alright people, there are two entrances to this square. Oruo, you take the southern end, I'll take the north. No Titans enter this square under any circumstances, got it? Eld, Gunther, you go find those kids that ran, get them to the rooftops. Recruit other squads if you have to. Kirito, you evacuate this hole and get as many others as you can find in the wreckage here up to the rooftops then stay there with them."

"Captain, I can help…" Kirito started to protest.

"You can help by doing what you are told. This is not walk in the park. Once you get more than ten people up there, every Titan in this quarter is going to make a bee-line for you. Keeping those kids together and safe is not going to be easy, but we're short handed."

"Captain, I don't think that kid is going to let go of Kirito," Eld stated the obvious. The kid was clinging to Kirito with a death grip.

"Fine. Gunther, you take the teacher to the rooftop. Once up there, the kid can hold on to her. Now go."

For all the kid had a strangle hold on him, Kirito had the easier job. Gunther had to lift an adult who couldn't use her legs then get to the top of the buildings, seating her against a chimney. She was terrified, but holding it together for the sake of the children.

They pried the kid off Kirito and wrapped him around the teacher. Giving her something to do made her more calm as well. Kirito dropped back to street level and crawled into the hole. "All right, I need you to send the kids up one at a time. I'll take 'em to the rooftop for safety, then come back for the next one."

It was going to take the full nine trips, plus; Eld and Gunther had a harder time tracking all the kids through the rubble. And before they were even done locating and rescuing the running kids, the Titans began swarming the rooftops. Levi and Oruo kept them out of the square, but they came from the other side of the buildings, meaning one of the three had to stay on the rooftop, keeping the monsters at bay and the kids from running off the roof in unthinking terror. But being down a third of their manpower was slowing them down, and while Captain Levi was fresh to the fight, the others had been at this for hours.

A teenager wearing the crossed swords emblem alit on the rooftop. He was about Kirito's age, but a full twenty centimeters taller. Life was so unfair, Kirito thought, looking up at him. Oh well. There were ways to balance karma. "Here," Kirito shoved the kid at him. "Keep him here and keep him safe." Kirito leapt off the roof before the newcomer could react.

"Wait! What?"

A second teenager, much smaller, with close shaved hair landed beside him. "Jean, what are you doing?"

Jean shoved the kid at Connie, who was too slow to get out of it. "Here. Keep him on the rooftop and keep him safe." Jean launched himself off the roof before Connie could react.

"Wait! What?" Connie shouted at Jean's disappearing back. "I don't even like kids!"

Mikasa dropped lightly onto the roof.

"Here!" Connie said, but after a glare from Mikasa, immediately backed down. "Never mind. If you see Sasha or Krista around, send her my way."

Armin landed beside her. "Here," Connie said, but Armin walked right past him to where the teacher leaned against a chimney, ten children huddled around her.

"What's going on?" Armin asked.

"The school building collapsed on us," she said. "They're trying to rescue the children."

Armin scanned the area. On the north and south sides of the square where the school once stood, each had a single scout, fending off the Titans. On the other side of the building they were standing on, there was no one. The Titans swarmed that open space. The other side, where the cadets had come from. "This is the highest concentration of people in this quarter of the city," Armin observed. "That's why they're coming."

"Then our presence is making it worse," Mikasa said.

Armin nodded. "Okay then, Mikasa, you station yourself on the buildings across the street. I'll grab Jean and join you. When the Titans come here, we can swoop in from behind and take them out."

"Right," Mikasa turned and leapt off the building.

Armin scanned the area, locating Jean and leaping towards him just as Gunther landed. "Oh good, they found a babysitter." Gunther shoved a second kid on Connie and turned to leave.

"Oh come on! Why am I stuck babysitting?" Connie complained.

On the north of the square, Levi kept an eye on the operation. Once the cadets had shown up, it sped up the process. Much to his surprise, the girl and the tall boy were actually decent at hunting Titans. The small blond boy was a waste of gas. He missed two out of the three kills he went for. Fortunately, the other two covered for him. Eventually, Eld signaled for Levi to come in. "We got them all," he said.

"No," the second teacher said. "There's still three children missing."

"We got them all," Eld repeated quietly.

Levi nodded sharply. "Alright, now we need to evacuate them to the walls. Don't worry about getting them over the walls, just get them on top; they can go to the resupply stations and take the elevator down. Gunther, I doubt anybody in the cadets is strong enough to carry the teacher so you've got her. I need each of you cadets…" He stopped and stared at Armin and Mikasa. "I know you two."

"Yes sir," Armin said. "We were with Eren when he sealed the gate."

"Did you get him out of jail, sir?" Mikasa said.

"We're working on it," Levi said.

"He didn't do anything wrong!" Mikasa said forcefully. "He did everything they asked. He doesn't deserve this."

"I said we're working on it." Levi turned to look at the others. "Each of the cadets will take one kid, drop him off on the wall, and come back. Eld, Oruo, you provide cover. Kirito and I will keep this group safe until you get back."

Mikasa glared at the Captain, but followed orders.

Once they had left, Kirito stopped to catch his breath. The respite was short lived. The Titans kept coming.

By the end of it, Kirito felt tired down to his muscles; not just stamina points running low but a lactic acid buildup. A game upgrade? But who on the outside would upgrade the death game to make it harder?


Kirito glanced up to see if this lactic acid buildup was affecting his health bar. And then he froze. "Okay, that's odd."

Levi turned around, expecting to see some abnormal Titan behavior but instead he saw Kirito making a swiping motion in the air. "What's odd?"

Kirito turned towards him. "Can you see your health bar or pull up your menu?"

"This isn't a restaurant kid. There are no bars and menus here." Levi looked at him strangely. "Now get your head back in the game." The Scout Captain strode to the edge of the roof, and launched himself at a pair of incoming Titans.

Before he got back, Kirito left to deal with another Titan coming up from the other side, and then the other Scouts and Cadets returned to take the last of the civilians from the roof. By the time they made it safely to the wall, Kirito had decided that he better not bring the subject up again. The look that Levi gave him suggested that either Levi thought he was crazy or perhaps that he was cracking under the stress.

Kirito was quiet over dinner as he mulled it over in his head. There were quests in the game where you could not activate your crystals. There were dead zones, where you could not send any communications out. He'd heard of a quest that you had to complete with whatever equipment you had on you when you began, but usually you could still see the other items in your storage, they were just grayed out. But the menu gone altogether?

That night in the barracks, he took off his swords and neatly folded his coat over them to make them less visible. Not that he didn't trust these Scouts, but items in your storage couldn't be stolen. Items left on a bench…

He laid down on his cot and stared up at the bunk above him when it suddenly hit him. What if this wasn't part of the game. What if this was real?

•-|—-— —-—|-•

A/N: Dirgory, your suggestion was well taken.