"YOU FUCKING TRAITOOORS!"
Eren didn't feel pain. He didn't feel the blood flowing as he bit down, or the steam burning, or the flesh expanding. He didn't feel sadness, or regret, or longing. There was only anger. A fierce, unyielding hate that surged up from deep within his soul and laid waste to everything else in his mind. In that moment, Eren didn't want answers. Nothing existed but this fight.
He just needed to punch Reiner. And not just once, but a hundred times. A thousand times. A million times.
The instant his transformation was complete, Eren drove his right fist into the Armored Titan's plated jaw. The force generated from his blow was enough to split them apart, sending Eren into a freefall while his opponent crashed against one of the nearby struts. From her position on the wall, Mikasa could only watch as the two combatants fell 50 meters to the ground below. Straddling the top of the wall with a massive ribcage, Bertholdt - no, the Colossal Titan - continued his assault against her comrades.
Mikasa mentally berated herself, cursing her hesitation. If only I had followed through with that attack...it was our best chance!
Their faces, masked with fear, flashed briefly in her mind.
As Eren and the Armored Titan finally crashed to the ground, Mikasa felt her heart do the same. She let out a sigh, reaffirming the grip on her blades.
There won't be a chance like that again...never again, she thought.
"Men! Get away from the wall!"
Hange's panicked cry woke Mikasa from her stupor. The young prodigy turned her attention to the battle above, just in time to witness the Colossal Titan deal a devastating blow to the wall and everyone on it. Soldiers, cannons, and chunks of the wall itself went flying. Over the sound of crashing stone and metal and the screams of her friends, one voice reached out.
"Ymir got caught!"
It was true. Mikasa could barely make out the form of Historia's friend, caught in one of the Colossal Titan's massive fists. There appeared to be another soldier in the opposite hand, but only the man's squirming legs could be seen. Quick as a flash, both hapless victims were tossed into the Colossal's mouth.
"He ate them!"
Mikasa could already feel something rising in her throat. Anger was beginning to take hold of her, and a few deep breaths weren't going to cut it this time. Despite the chaos of the moment and her own swirling torrent of emotions, Mikasa closed her eyes and focused. She had to stay in control, she couldn't afford to be reckless. This battle could end the war. Or it could make things much, much worse.
Far below, blind to the swirling chaos on the edge of the wall, Eren struggled to lift his battered form up off the ground. The Armored Titan had been quick to recover after his surprise attack, delivering a swift blow to Eren's head. The nose and upper lip were already regenerating, but the process was still a slow one.
"That bastard," Eren mumbled, almost lost in the euphoric throes of Titan transformation.
"Always going on about being a soldier, having your duties and sense of honor. Despite that, you held back in our fights. You're actually pretty strong, but I guess scum can have strength, too. Yeah, you're scum. Do you have any idea about the kind of shit you've done to us? The shit you're doing to us right now, your so-called "comrades?" You seemed like a great guy, the kind of guy I looked up to. You were always so calm, so level-headed, eyes on the bigger picture without ever forgetting about the details that held it together. Always putting your friends' well-being before your own..."
The Armored Titan approached slowly, its heavy feet sending tremors through the ground and birds flying from the trees nearby.
"I remember thinking to myself, 'I want to be like him.'"
A sudden burst of gas, the sound of cables grinding against metal. Quick as always, Mikasa rotated her body and spun her blades right into the Armored Titan's neck. They snapped in two immediately upon coming into contact with its armor, and Mikasa cursed as she sped past.
"Damn it," she thought, "nothing works!"
Sparing no time for hesitation, she whirled around and fired her cables into the Armored Titan's back, lining herself up for a more precise strike. Trapped in his regenerating form, Eren gazed up at the eyes of his armored executioner.
"You guys are real assholes. You've done more harm than anyone else ever has. I need to make you disappear!"
Pouring all his effort into concentration, Eren focused his mind and commanded the form around him to rise. Slowly, the healing body complied, pushing itself up to face the coming threat.
"You can't be allowed to remain in this world. I'm feeling sick just thinking about your face, that stupid face you made back then when you took that salute. Justice, my ass. I feel like puking my guts out."
The eyes on his Titan form widened slightly as it finally rose to its feet. Realizing that her efforts were futile and fully aware that Eren was rearing up for another attack, Mikasa quickly jumped from the Armored Titan's back and retreated back to the wall.
"You goddamn vermin."
Losing himself further to the influence within his own mind, Eren summoned every ounce of strength and flung his right fist into the Armored Titan's cheek.
"I'm gonna EXTERMINATE YOU!"
The blow did not even phase his opponent. The hand itself nearly disintegrated on impact, and the Armored Titan's emotionless counterattack was brutal. A single, calculated blow to Eren's own face eviscerated him and sent the form flying back yet again. Like before, his nose and upper lip were destroyed...along with the entire front of his skull. When he finally collided with the ground for the second time, Eren found himself slipping into despair.
"Too strong...I can't do anything to him like this."
"I give up," he murmured into the hot flesh. Eren closed his eyes, relinquishing himself to the oblivion that was coming.
Eren's eyes burst open.
'I don't need you to give up, I need you to learn...how to use your strength...'
He rose to his feet, the Armored Titan never slowing in its approach.
"Eren! Don't do it!" Even from her position on the wall, Mikasa's words reached him. She was sure of it. Still, he continued to rise and heal his battered form.
"Fighting him won't get you anywhere!" She cried.
"You're wrong. I have to be stronger than him to win...I can be stronger..." Eren's mantra of hatred continued.
"Retreat closer to the wall, where we can help you!" Hange's desperation was clear. "You must not fight him!"
Within his own shell, Reiner sighed. "Your tenacity is part of what makes you strong, Eren. But you need to know when to throw in the towel. This next attack will end things here, and then we can take you home."
The Armored Titan bent its legs, froze momentarily, then launched itself full-speed towards Eren's form.
"I NEED TO BE STRONGER!"
The steam slowly trickling from his wounds suddenly became a geyser, exploding outwards and blanketing most of the area around him with a white-hot mist. Undeterred, Reiner forced his shell to move faster, hoping to beat the fledgling shifter before he managed to heal. Reaching the critical moment at last, the Armored Titan launched into the air and unleashed a vicious superman punch, disappearing into the mist surrounding its target.
CLANG! The sound of metal on something, something more. Something harder.
Mikasa and the rest of Squad 1 stared in astonishment as the Armored Titan went flying backwards, landing on its back and sliding for quite some distance. The Armored Titan fell still, and remained that way for a time. Mikasa blinked and turned to glance at Eren, who was still enveloped in a cloud of steam. Several surprised gasps brought her attention back to Reiner's form, which was currently struggling to look up. When it did, Mikasa let out a gasp of her own.
The armor on its face was cracked, chips falling away from it every second or so. A few bolts of electricity danced across the surface for a brief moment before disappearing without a trace. Despite that, Mikasa could still hear the crackling.
But it wasn't coming from the right, not from Reiner's form. The source of the noise was to the left, by Eren. Mikasa looked back, and by then most of the steam had dissipated. Eren's Titan form had completely regenerated, however the entire right side of its body was still emanating steam and bolts of electricity. When at last they faded, even the Colossal Titan turned its attention to the new development.
Midnight. Plates of purest ebony now decorated the entire right side of Eren's Titan form, latticed and shining. Even the right half of his Titan's face was now covered in the strange material. The new substance only expanded so far; the further to the left it traveled, the thinner it became, eventually abandoning its solid form and scattering into countless black branches.
The tell-tale whirring of grappling hooks woke Mikasa from her trance. Hange lowered herself to Mikasa's right side, her expression lit up like it always was when a new discovery had been made. Mikasa knew, however, that this time was different. There was a wonder in those eyes she had never seen before, a mad kind of hunger.
"Whatever kind of transformation this is, clearly it's incomplete. Still, this new advantage is too much of a game-changer to ignore. How fascinating! I wonder what could have triggered the change?"
The light of the sun gave Eren's newly acquired armor a brilliant sheen. He unclenched the right fist, still in his stance from that last sucker punch. Bringing the changed hand closer, Eren studied it through his second pair of eyes.
"What the hell—?"
'I need you to learn how to use your strength.'
Annie's words came to him once again, reigniting his desire to fight. To win.
"I don't know how this happened," he thought. Not that it mattered at the moment. Eren clenched and unclenched the hand repeatedly, comforted by the new strength coursing through him. Reiner gazed up in shock, and watched as the hand closed into a fist once again. Eren's second pair of eyes snapped up to meet Reiner's.
For only a brief moment, the traitor to humanity felt afraid. Eren's form adopted a fighting stance once again, fists raised and head held high. He felt confident again. He could win!
"Bring it on, Reiner. Let's see if this new body of mine is as strong as it feels!"
Reiner laughed, and his muscled new form laughed with him. The voice, deep like fading thunder and just as hardy, shocked them all into silence. It never occurred to any of them, not even Eren, that a Titan Shifter could speak while in a changed form.
"Eren," boomed the Armored Titan. "Whatever you did to yourself, let's see if it's enough to beat me." Reiner rose to his giant feet, metallic fragments falling all the while.