Disclaimer: Although it would be completely awesome, I do not in fact own Shingeki no Kyojin, which belongs to Hajime Isayama and Studio WIT. Nor do I own Reki Kawahara and A-1 Pictures' Sword Art Online. But if I did... actually, no. That would be the worst decision humanity as a whole could make. I'll just stick to writing fanfiction and geeking out over anime, thank you very much.

Edit 4-2-14: Fixed some typo's, and I may or may not have tweaked a scene which could've ripped a hole in the space-time continuum.


Advancing Giants Online

#2: A Gilded Fantasy


"-praised the creator of the game, Kayaba Akihiko, for the creative way in which he ended the beta of his new VRMMO, Advancing Giants Online. Though it's been four years since AGO was first unveiled to the public in the Tokyo Game Show, hype surrounding the game has yet to decrease. When asked if players could expect such events to become commonplace in the game, all Mr. Kayaba had to say was-"

Click

"-would do something as stupid as that? I mean, really, just 10,000 units on the first shipping? There's no way that Argus Entertainment is expecting the sales to be so low, especially with all the hype surrounding the damn game. Either they're huge pessimists or they-"

Click

"-good to see that Argus is finally supporting their newest console. I remember when the NerveGear first came out, and all the launch games were either boring tech demos or one-trick ponies. There was one game being developed exclusively for the system, titled Project Aincrad, but it eventually just turned out to be vaporware. Hopefully, AGO will make the NerveGear a must-buy entertainment system. Personally, I think that-"

Click.

"-level of realism is just downright creepy. Seriously, I almost forgot that I was plugged in sometimes. And don't even get me started on the enemies, those things can give you nightmares. It's almost like Kayaba wanted to put as much fear as he-"

Click.

Kazuto glanced at the time in the bottom right-hand corner of his monitor.

Only 12:54 pm.

Sighing, the young man brushed a stray strand of hair out of his face as he idly spun around on his office chair. Only six minutes till launch, and the seconds seemed to tick off the clock in slow motion. The agony was killing him. Though he had tried killing some time by messing around on the web, if anything, all it did was make the seconds go by slower.

He had patiently been waiting for 1:00 to arrive. The official launch of Advancing Giants Online was about to go live, and as an original beta tester for the game, Kazuto was one of the lucky 10,000 people to get their hands on the much sought out Limited Edition. The best part of it was that he only had to pay half of the actual price. So now all he had to do was wait another few minutes and he would be fine.

12:55.

He had been waiting for this day for the past three years. Advancing Giants Online. The world's first Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online action game on the NerveGear.

There were many things that made AGO stand out among the crowd, disregarding it's Nervegear-exclusive release. For starters, the unique setting and gameplay. Taking place in a medieval world populated by giant man-eating monsters, the world of AGO could become quite immersive at times, and that wasn't even considering the game's absurdly huge world, roughly the size of an entire continent. In order to explore the world, a player could either walk, a daunting task in of itself, ride a horse, or utilize the ingenious game mechanic known as the 3D Maneuver Gear. Hyped beyond belief ever since it was first announced, Kazuto had been following the game's progress with a magnifying glass, absorbing every sliver of info and every tidbit of news. He had played for hours during the beta, determined to mine all the knowledge he possibly could so that when the game came out for real, he could immerse himself as deeply into it as he wished.

After all, what better way to escape reality then to replace it with another?

12:56.

"Kazuto! I'm heading out now!"

Four more minutes. Two hundred and forty seconds left. Kazuto ran his hand through his hair, idly thinking about the prospects of getting a hair cut. It would certainly make putting on his NerveGear less of a hassle, as he always had to roll up his shoulder-length hair before logging on. He usually let it grow out, and it was only when his sister ambushed him with a pair of scissors that he ever found his hair short. Maybe that was a habit he should change soon.

Not today, of course, but soon.

"Kazuto? Did you hear me?"

The voice startled him a bit, if only due to it being directly from behind him. Kazuto turned around in his chair to address the owner of said voice.

Suguha Kirigaya was infamous in certain circles. Being a kendo prodigy, one of the top students in her school, and having undeniably gorgeous looks, it was understandable that she would be the object of many people's desire. But instead of spending time with girls her age, the fifteen-year-old actually used most of her spare time to dote on her older brother. Her older brother being Kazuto, of course. She wore a white cotton sweater under an equally white and puffy scarf. She also wore her school-issued skirt, something which contrasted with both the cold weather outside and the very sweater she wore, though Kazuto decided that it was best to keep that last thought to himself. She held a small red handbag, the same one he had bought her for her birthday.

"Hellooo~? Is anyone in there?" She playfully hit the top of his head with her purse. "Earth to Kazuto~!"

Kazuto didn't even bother hiding the smile that worked it's way across his face. Suguha's refreshingly cheerful demeanor always managed to put him in a good mood, no matter the situation. "Ne, you really need to stop sneaking into my room, sis." He half-heartedly blocked the incoming purse aimed for his head. "It's one of your only bad habits."

Suguha crossed her arms in annoyance. "Given how much time I spend taking care of you, I think I deserve a flaw or two." She sighed. "Honestly."

"I s'pose that's fair."

12:57.

Suguha found her attention being drawn to her brothers computer monitor. "What're you up to?"

Following her gaze, Kazuto remembered that he was still browsing the internet. "Oh, nothing important. Just surfing the web."

His sister frowned. "It better not be anything naughty."

"C'mon, Suguha, you know me better than that."

"So then you're playing those video games again?"

"...well..."

"That's what I thought. You're gonna ruin your eyes if you keep playing so many games, you know."

Kazuto managed to suppress the urge to roll his eyes. "It doesn't work like that Suguha. My NerveGear emits images and code directly to my brain. I'm basically asleep whenever I plug in."

"That's even worse! What if you get too much sleep, or you can't wake up? Your biological clock will be ruined!"

"My wha- okay, look sis, I'll be fine."

"I guess. By the way, I've been meaning to ask you something." She zipped open her handbag and rummaged through it. Finding what she had been looking for, she brandished two small pieces of paper, "My friend Kimiko gave me these two tickets for a concert. She was gonna go with her boyfriend, but apparently something came up. I was wondering if maybe... you wanted to go with me?" It was then that Suguha engaged a special skill that Kazuto had aptly named Adorably Irresistible Little Sister, an action that involved a slight tsundere blush, diverting her gaze towards anywhere but Kazuto's eyes, and crossing her arms behind her back. The result was devastating, really. "It's not too far from here, and I heard that the band is pretty good. So... you know... if you want..."

ThIs made Kazuto think. It had been a while since he had gone out and done something with his sister.

12:58.

"Sure. When is it?"

His sister flipped one of the tickets over. "It's actually... today, at 6. Do you think you could ready by then?"

He actually planned to be playing AGO for most of today. And most of that week too, as a matter of fact. But when it came to his sister, Kazuto always found himself to be more lenient than usual. "Yeah, definitely. It's a date, okay?"

"B-baka!" Suguha's face lit up in comedic fashion, a fact she tried to cover up by looking anywhere other than her brother. "Don't go saying weird stuff like that!"

"Hmm? Whaddya mean, weird?"

"N-nevermind that!" The flustered teenage girl rushed out of Kazuto's room quicker than he could keep track of her. "I'm going out for groceries now! Don't play those video games so much!" The sound of feet upon carpet, then hardwood, and finally the front door slamming shut. Kazuto let out a small chuckle at his sister's hasty yet amusing exit.

12:59

Time to get started.

It happened almost instantaneously. He flung himself from his chair to his bed in a surprisingly graceful manner, taking care not to step on the numerous wires spread out on the floor. The NerveGear appeared to have teleported into his hand, so fast had he plucked it from its resting spot. He slid the headset on, the console's internal HUD powering on as it sensed the presence of a user. This was it. Advancing Giants Online was downloaded onto the hard drive already, so all Kazuto had to do was launch it. All he needed was four hours, then he'd go to that concert with his sister.

At that moment, Suguha, who was outside on the sidewalk by then, spared a glance at her brother's second story room. For whatever reason, she suddenly felt colder.

She found herself reaching up for the comfort of a red scarf that wasn't there.


Loading file;

Initiating sequence.

...

Welcome to Advancing Giants Online!

Sign up or Login? Login.

Username: Kirito

Password: **************

Loading character data.

...

Name: Eren Jaeger

Branch: Scouting Legion

Special: Assault

Squad: 104th Mobile

Is this your character? Yes.

Would you like to change your Branch? No.

Welcome back, {Eren Jaeger}.

{Default Level; overridden} Lvl6.

We here at Argus Entertainment would like to thank all the people who played the beta of our newest game, Advancing Giants Online. As thanks for your feedback regarding the refinement of the AGO experience, you have been awarded a randomized special item. We look forward to hearing about your future exploits!


Logging into AGO was an experience that was difficult to describe. There was the physical aspect; your body felt like it was being shoved into a box, namely your avatar, and then it was stretched every which way. Thankfully, the sensation only lasted a few seconds, and it wasn't actually painful.

Then there was the mental aspect. You knew that you were about to venture into a completely different reality than the one you belonged to. Nobody knew who you really were, where you came from, or what kind of person you were. It was like discovering the anonymity of the internet all over again. You could be whoever you wanted to be, untethered by the normal rules of society. It was a breath of fresh air, something that made AGO, hell, MMO's in general so addicting.

In real life, I was Kazuto Kirigaya, otaku extraordinaire, former kendo student, and gaming fanatic. In the world of AGO, I was Eren Jaeger, Titan-Slayer, and member of the Scouting Legion's 104th Mobile Division.

But that's just me geeking out.

The first thing I did when I finally spawned in the Survey Corps HQ was open my menu. A simple waving gesture with my right hand brought up the familiar white layout. If you weren't busy killing Titans or exploring the Walls, you were busy messing around with the menu. Trades, friend requests, updates, checking your inventory; all of these and more were done through the floating holographic projection. Right now, all I wanted to do was check out that special item I received from the developers. I entered my inventory and saw that all the items I had accumulated in the beta were still there, though their value had all dropped to a single coll. A fair trade, I guess. Then I saw it.

Mysterious Key Necklace (LvL 3): A key tied to a cord. Where it came from, and what it unlocks are both equally mysterious. It also appears to be made out of some unknown metal, and is heavier than it looks. Can be worn as an accessory (+2 STR, +5 STA, +2 CHA, +3 DEX, -3 INT).

So it was a special item/accessory? Not many of those lying around. The only things I had seen that qualified as special items were the King's Pass's a player needed to fast-travel between the Walls, and those could be gained after beating specific quests. Maybe it unlocked a special-type chest further down the road? It made sense, the Admins wouldn't give me something useless in a game about survival. Still, I kind of wished they'd just given me a pair of blades with +10 Flesh Rendering. At least this thing could boost my stats.

I equipped the item, and it appeared on my neck. It was true, this thing was a lot heavier than it looked. Not in the physical sense, but by the fact that my Avatar's Weight had increased by 20 pounds. Weight was an important statistic, especially where 3DMG were concerned. It could affect your entire performance. Still, I had enough confidence in myself to handle an extra 20 pounds.

"Hey, Eren!"

A familiar voice shook me out of my thoughts. It came from behind, and I quickly dismissed my menu.

Back when I first entered AGO's beta, there was a player I found stranded in a forest outside of Wall Maria. My first thought was that he must have ran out of propulsion gas, because his 3DMG weren't strapped to his hips, and it didn't look like he had brought a horse. He was being chased by a 7 meter-class Titan, running like his life depended on it, which it kind of did in a sense. I was about to rush in and help him, when the Titan cornered him against a large tree. And instead of being eaten like a normal player would in similar situations... the ground opened up from beneath the Titan, causing the large monstrosity to comically fall. Yeah, I know. The trap-hole was only deep enough so that the Titan fell to it's chest. The beast was dazed for only a few moments, and started clawing at the player.

The moment I started wondering what the player was going to do next was the moment he calmly reached into his supply pack, pulled out an Incendiary Bomb, and nonchalantly tossed it into the Titan's gaping maw.

Armin Arlert proved to me that he was a complete badass in the first twenty seconds of our first meeting. And he wasn't even trying.

He didn't look the part though. His stature was among the shortest of players that I knew, and to be honest, some would mistake him as a girl due to his feminine face. His stats weren't exactly impressive either, as instead of focusing on Strength or Dexterity like most others, he instead chose to work on tempering his Intelligence. Still, it was the way that he used that Intelligence that gave him his reputation in the beta. Like me, he had chosen the Scouting Legion as his branch, mainly because I talked him out of the Military Police.

"Yo Armin, how's it been?" I wrapped him in a one-armed hug, similar to the ones Reiner would often give Bertholdt. "It's been so long! How've you been?"

"Ah, it's been good." Another trait of Armin's; despite being one of the more skilled players in the beta, he was just a bit shy. "Sorry I couldn't make it on the last day. I had exams."

I smiled. Typical of him, really. He was also a smart guy IRL too. " Ara, say no more. I kinda wished I did that. I pulled an all-nighter on that day." That was way too true. Suguha hounded me about studying for my exams, getting into a better school, finding a good job, etcetera.

"Of course you did." Something in Armin's look changed to... curiosity? "Hey, what's that thing around your neck? Is it a new accessory?" Oh, he was just wondering about the key I was gifted. Never one to miss a detail, probably from all that time he spent haggling with Ymir on info.

I toyed with the oddly weighted key hanging from my neck. "It's just some knick-knack the Devs gave to me for participating in the beta. I dunno what it's for, but it boosts my stats, so it's useful. Didn't you get something like this?"

"Kinda." Pulling up his Inventory, Armin materialized a worn-up old book. "'Forbidden Lore Chronicle (LvL 3): A dusty old book recalling the ancient past of humanity outside the Walls. Contains information considered illegal, and details the first recorded sightings of the Titans ( pas +5 INT)'. Just a glorified paper weight, really. I bet I could sell it for some decent coll to Ymir, though."

"Have you read it yet?"

"No. I'm not too interested in gaming lore and stuff like that. I might keep it, though. It's giving me a passive bonus to my Intelligence."

"Hey, don't knock something 'till you try it." I almost considered traded items right then and there. Unlike Armin, the lore surrounding games had always fascinated me. It was easy(ish) to create a game that people could have fun with, but to create a nonexistent world that could get someone to immerse themselves in it? That was a slightly harder challenge.

Armin put the book back in his Inventory and looked at me with a certain look in his eyes. "So, what do you wanna do?"

A good question. There were just so many things to do, and this was just day one. In the beta, only a small portion of the world had been available for testers to explore. Random Events and level grinding made up a large chunk of our early AGO experience, with a rare Scripted Moment thrown in for variety. The full game promised activities, Squad Quests, Titan Research, and much more. There were just too many choices to choose from.

So I fell back on a plan that had never failed me.

"Let's go kill some Titans."


{Armin Arlert has Stunned a 15m-class Aberrant}

{Eren Jaeger has Slain a 7m-class Titan}: Exp+23, Coll+60

"Armin, can you handle that one?" I pulled my two swords out of the neck of the now dead Titan. "You look like you've got your hands full!" I quickly wiped a bead of sweat off my face; the steam from the decaying Titan's body gave off more heat than I remembered.

We had traveled to the eastern forests outside Wall Maria, hoping to find and kill some Titans before all the newbie players 'graduated'. Every player had to go through it, a tutorial level that could essentially be boiled down to 'Try Not To Die'. At least, that's how it went in the beta. The devs could have done away with the tutorial, but given AGO's deep gameplay system and steep learning curve, it was unlikely. As far as Armin and I could tell, only us beta's had been let out to play since the first second. Which was a good thing, seeing as how easy it was to kill a Titan. All the good grinding spots would be taken sooner or later.

And speaking of killing...

Seeing as how there were only two actual enemies in the game, being Titans and other humans, it kind of made sense that there would be a healthy dose of variety in the former. There were what were referred to as Regulars, the most common thing you'd be fighting, if you could call a 5-15 man-eating humanoid giant regular.

Following up were the Abnormals, who had less predictable movements, ran faster than their brethren, and their neck was a bit harder to break through.

Then there are your Aberrants, which were basically Regulars with beefed up stats and something resembling intelligence. Sometimes they also had a quirk, like the ability to walk on all fours or leap great distances.

Finally, there were the Rogues. Those SOB's were nearly impossible to kill solo (which of course meant that Mikasa had killed 6 of them without batting an eyelash) and could even command other Titans. You don't usually see them hanging close to the Walls, no, you have to travel waaay away to find them. And when you did, you better have brought your entire squad with you, otherwise you were screwed (again, Mikasa was the exception to this rule).

Well, back to the topic at hand...

{Armin Arlert has Blinded a 15m-class Aberrant}

"Don't worry, I got this one!" He pulled his two swords out from the sockets of the Titan he had been fighting for the past couple of minutes and lept back. A beastial roar sounded throughout the forest as the Titan held it's bleeding eyes in pain. It stumbled around on it's feet, shaking the earth with it's sheer weight. Armin rocketed past the howling beast, a grim look of determination set on his face. He shot two lines, one at the base of a tree and the other into a large boulder. He was using an old trick of his, a trap meant to trip a Titan and send them crashing to the ground. I almost felt bad for the blind monster as it inevitably tripped over Armin's wires. It crashed onto the ground head first, throwing a considerably large cloud of dust into the air. The Titan, whose neck was completely exposed, was in the perfect execution phase. Seeing his opportunity, Armin flew up into the air, launched his cables into the flesh just below the the Titan's weak spot, and began his descent, his swords drawn for the kill.

Suddenly, the Titan turned his body around and swatted at Armin with it's right arm. Barely dodging the humongous fist, Armin manage to serve out of the way, but I watched on in horror as he crashed into a tree. He must have been going too fast to stop.

I watched the Titan rise from the ground, and a surge of anger ran throughout my body. Why the hell wouldn't this thing just die?

Armin slowly gathered himself up, probably dazed from the sudden impact. The Titan seemed to notice his momentary weakness, because it started to make it's way towards Armin's prone form. I ran, desperate to save my friend from becoming another casualty. I wasn't a strategist like Armin was, more of an improviser than anything. So, I fell onto what I felt was natural.

I hurled a Grenade at it.

It wasn't a modern day grenade, more like a piece of pottery that had a surprisingly short fuse on it. The damage it could cause wasn't very impressive, and it was meant more as a tool of distraction than anything else. Still, it did it's job. Once it hit the Titan's leg, it exploded with a loud boom, sending pieces of shrapnel everywhere. The Titan's leg looked none the worse for wear, but it's focuses shifted from Armin to me. It changed it's course of direction mid-step, and it was only once I started furiously running in the opposite direction and used my 3DMG to outrun the Titan that I realized I had no idea what to do next. "Damn it Armin, pull yourself together!"

I didn't look behind me to see if he heard me, but he did reply back: "Lead it back towards me!"

Not bothering to even fathom what Armin was planning, I sent a cable towards a tree and used my forward momentum to launch myself back around in a giant circle. The Titan tried to swat me with it's hand like it did Armin, and I had to barrel roll to the left to avoid the giant appendage. Up ahead, I saw Armin waving to me and running in my direction. "Don't stop!" he yelled at the top of his lungs. Once I reached him, I grabbed his outstretched hand and sent another line forwards.

"Please tell me you have a plan?!"

"I need you to slingshot me towards his neck!"

...what. "WHAT?!"

"Just do it!"

Gritting my teeth, I used both of our combined weight to swing about the tree, effectively making a huge U-turn in midair. The Titan, who had abandoned his slow gait in favor of a fast jog, was closing the distance between us. And Armin wanted to go towards it. Willingly. Freakin' loon.

We were close to the Titan when Armin said "Throw me!" I gathered all my remaining strength and flung him towards the monster.

What happened next could be played in slow motion, and people still wouldn't be able to decipher what happened.

The Titan opened it's enormous maw to catch the airborne Armin, but at the last second, he leaned to the left, almost touching the abomination's teeth with his boots. At the same time, he sent a line in to the side of the Titan's head, causing him to make an abrupt right, to where he was practically standing on top off the Titan's neck. Once his blades slashed across the nape, I knew it was over.

Time almost seemed to stop. The beast, who had been reaching with it's right hand to grab Armin, suddenly spasmed. Steam burst furiously from it's neck, and a sudden wave of heat assaulted our surroundings. The Titan once more crashed to the ground, this time for good.

{Armin Arlert has Slain a 15m-class Aberrant}: Exp+45, Coll+85

{Assist Bonus: Eren Jaeger}: Exp+10, Coll+12

Once I was sure the Titan wasn't going to get back up again, I let myself crash on the grassy floor, rolling around to a stop. I lay on the ground, gasping in the air. That whole maneuver with Armin had taken a large amount of my Stamina, to the point where the yellow bar on my HUD was flashing. It would regenerate, though, as long as I inhaled the air like a madman. I heard the crunching of boots on dirt, and I found myself staring up at Armin, who offered me his hand. I took a few seconds to catch my breath, and took his hand. He helped me to my feet and gave me a smile.

"Thanks for that, Eren. I think a owe you big time now." He was referring to the death penalty in the game. Most MMO's would have you respawn in the nearest town or outpost if you died. However, in order to rack up the intensity of AGO, the developers instead decided to make dying more than just a slight annoyance. If your avatar was killed, that was it. No respawns or phoenix downs. All your items, experience, and stats that you had earned would be deleted, and you would have to start over from scratch. Staying alive was an even harder task due to there being no health potions or items, and you also had to keep an eye on your Hunger and Sanity. It was kind of brutal, to be honest. And since most players invested more time into their characters than was considered healthy, death in AGO was nothing to scoff at.

I smiled and patted on on the back. "Don't sweat it. I'm pretty sure you saved my ass way more than once." And it was true. "I'm more worried about how you managed to pull that stunt off."

"Oh, that? I got the idea from-"

"Mikasa?"

He grinned sheepishly. "Yeah. Well, I was the one who threw her. And she did more damage than I managed to."

I sighed both out of exhaustion and exasperation. "Of course she did. I bet it was against a Rogue, too." It wasn't so much a question as it was a speculation, but the way Armin avoided eye contact with me told me all I needed to know. "Figures. You need to stop hunting with her, Armin. She's gonna kill all the Rogues before me and Reiner can get a chance to." Still, I couldn't help but crack a smile. Just what was I gonna do with her?

Armin returned my smile and idly walked past me. "That's probably true." He strolled towards the smoking Titan and gave it a hard kick. "We should head deeper into the forest and hunt some more Regulars. I think I've had enough Aberrants for today. It'll be a good way to kill some time."

Speaking of killing time, I was pretty sure I was forgetting something. I almost checked my watch for the time, but remembered that it was back IRL. "Do you know what time it is?"

Armin chuckled. "Just check your menu, Eren."

I almost face palmed at my completely noob mistake. Whatever. I brought up my menu with my right hand. Alright, there was the time. Now why exactly did I need to know it? Something about music... then the memory hit me like a train. The concert. "Oh crap, it's 5:50!"

Behind me, I heard Armin break off his remaining blades and replace them with a fresh pair from his dispensers. "And that's bad because...?" he drawled.

"I promised my sis I'd take her somewhere at 6. She's gonna go nuts if I'm not ready!" Sadly, this was true. I had once made the terrible mistake of blowing off Suguha before. Once. Mind you, it was an accident, but I will never again look at a bottle of half-empty soy sauce the same way ever again. I didn't realize I had been playing for so long. "I gotta get goin'."

My best friend laughed good-naturedly. "Alright then. Will I see you tomorrow?"

I gave him my best smile. "Count on it." I focused my attention back on the menu. I quickly went into my inventory and sold some junk, totaling up to 545 coll. I had caught up with Armin, got a few Titan kills; pretty good for just a couple of hours. And now that I wasn't pressed for time like I was in the beta, I could just take it slow. Maybe I wouldn't die 500 times this go. I smiled. This game was gonna take up so much of my time. I swiped down on my menu to Logout... only to find that I couldn't use it.

The icon was there, but for whatever reason it was grayed out, and each time I pressed it, nothing would happen.

Odd.

"Hey, did they change how the Logout button works or something?"

I looked at Armin, who was organizing his Inventory. "I don't think so." He went to the same menu page as me and spotted the button, and just like I had, he mashed it with his index finger only for nothing to happen. "That's pretty weird." He rubbed his chin in thought. "Maybe you have to be in a safe zone for it to work?"

I scoffed. "It's not that. Every game on the NerveGear is required to have a type of 'emergency off' type code, like the Logout. It's so if the game crashes on you, you'll still be able to get back to reality and not be stuck in your game. You're supposed to be able to access it anywhere. And there's no alternative switch, I checked." This was a serious bug. I might be trapped in here until the Admins patched the game, or until Suguha barged into my room and pulled the Nervegear off my head. Neither were very appealing scenarios. I had such high hopes for this game too.

"And... just how did you know that?"

"Don't act like you haven't been obsessing over everything VR since this game was announced."

Armin chuckled. "Okay Eren, I'll give you that."

Still, it wouldn't be smart to remain in the forest and hope that the problem fixed itself. There was a chance Armin was correct, and I was just over thinking things. We should head back to the Walls and see what we could do over there. "Let's head back. Maybe we-"

I was interrupted by a low rumbling. It came from the south end of the forest, and was growing in volume. Another Titan, so soon? Now wasn't the time for this. I had barely recovered from the last one. Armin had noticed it too.

For whatever reason, we stayed on the ground, waiting to see what was coming instead of launching ourselves up on a branch like normal players. I was just curious to see what the commotion was, but Armin had pulled out his swords, a little paranoid if you asked me. The low rumble soon became deafening, and I had to cover my ears to drown the sound out. I glanced at Armin, who was doing the same, and saw him shout out something. I couldn't hear him though, and-

A whole squadron of players came barreling out of the darkness. Some were on horses, while others were flailing about with their maneuver gear. About twenty players in total, give or take twenty-five.

They weren't Beta Testers like Armin and I. You could tell by the way they had trouble keeping their horses in a straight line, and how the ones on their 3DMG had no sense of timing. Experienced players could remember the subtle nuances regarding the flow of movement; these guys didn't have it. Plus, the looks on their faces could just- Wait. That look wasn't frustration or exhaustion, a common trait among first-time players. It was panic. And that rumbling sound wasn't coming from them, it was still growing.

This scene was a bit too familiar for my liking. It was exactly like the first time I had logged on in AGO's beta. Which meant...

"Armin, get to higher ground!" I knew he couldn't hear, but he still nodded in my direction. He probably got the gist of what I had said, 'cause he shot up to one of the branches overhead. I sent a cable upwards and did the same. I glared at the way the players had come.

My instinct had been right.

Just five seconds behind the players they were chasing, an entire horde of Titans came rampaging through the underbrush of the forest. Small trees fell in their wake, and they left behind huge gashes in the earth. The players panic renewed itself with vigor, and they tried even harder to control their horses, to work out the kinks in their maneuver gear. They tried to flee. But I knew it wouldn't be enough. You couldn't run away from a motivated Titan on horseback, and unless you had a clear understanding of the 3DMG, you couldn't fight them properly either. The Titans, an absurd amount of bodies that I couldn't even hope to estimate, began stomping on the players who were foolish enough to stay on horseback. A few of the more clever players jumped off their mounts and attempted to shoot into the trees with their maneuver gear, but were caught in the hands of the greedy monsters mid-air. All of them were eaten whole. All of them screamed.

It was a massacre.

Armin and I watched the occurrence with morbid curiosity. When Armin first logged onto the beta, he had been lucky enough to spawn within the safety of the inner walls. I wasn't as fortunate, and wound up in the middle of a large-scale defensive against an army of Titans.

This event was on a much smaller scale, but it didn't mean it was any less horrific.

While the Titans feasted, I heard the neighing of a horse. I scanned the battlegrounds closely, and to my my amazement, a player had survived! On horseback, no less. The player weaved through the stumpy legs of the Titans, and avoided the stomping of their feet. He was obviously more skilled than the players he had accompanied, but not by too large a margin. I smiled; he was taking advantage of the Titan's preoccupation with the other players! A little too sly for me, but that would've been something Armin pulled off. Then he tried to take to the skies.

I wanted to yell at him; to tell him no, that he should stay on the ground where he was and sneak away unnoticed. He was doing so good!

The moment he tried to send a cable towards a branch, a Titan took notice of him, just like I had predicted. He was grabbed in the mid-flight, just like his companions. And just like his companions, he was about to be swallowed whole.

I don't know what snapped me out of my trance, but I found myself free falling towards the distressed player. Drawing my swords, I gripped the handles hard, and when I reached the offending Titan, I swung at his eyes with all the strength I could muster. Steel met flesh, and the burst of steam assured me that I had hit true. The Titan let go of the player, gripping it's eyes in pain. I quickly fell to the player, and reached out to grab his arm. He must have realized that I was trying to rescue him, and I almost smiled at the look of determination etched across his face. He caught my arm and held onto it.

The other Titans heard their brethren's cries of pain, and turned our way. I silently cursed, and shot a line back to the branch I had fell from. I pulled the trigger on my gear's control grips, and clenched my teeth as we rapidly ascended. We were gonna make it! We were gonna get to safety!

The player didn't see it because he was too busy hanging on for dear life, but a Titan, small, barely 5 meter-class, leapt up from the crowd, it's huge maw open. I watched it jump upwards, towards us. Then, I saw it clamp it's mouth shut.

"AAAAAAAAAAAH!"

The Titan had closed it's mouth around the player's leg, all the way up to his mid-calf. I could only watch as the player's face contorted into one of pain, and he let all the air out of his lungs in the form of a blood-curdling scream. Still, his expression quickly morphed into pure hate. He glared down at the Titan who had caused him so much pain.

"Get off of me." It was barely a whisper, and I only heard it because I was so close to him. Was he... talking to the Titan? The player lifted his free leg up and slammed it into the eyes of the dangling Titan. "I. SAID." he accented every kick with an eerily calm yet loud voice, "GET. THE. HELL. OFF! OF! ME!"

The Titan eventually let go.

But it took the player's leg along.

To the player's credit, he stayed completely silent until we finally ascended to the branch. But when I put him down? "PLEASE, DO SOMETHING! IT HURTS!" The player let out a scream of agony, something that seemed to excite the horde of Titans gathering under the branches of the tree.

I had no idea what I was supposed to do. This had never happened before, you couldn't get dismembered in this game! Eaten alive, yeah, crushed to death, happened all the time. But both those things were bloodless, no matter how gory they might've been in real life. And god... the blood. So much was pouring out of his leg stump it was almost unreal. Some of it was dripping off the branch we were on, splattering on the teeth and faces of the monsters below. It was sickening, like a bad horror movie using too much fake blood. Just what the hell was going on?!

"Eren."

Dammit Kazuto, think! What would Suguha do in this situation? Okay, she'd probably faint. Then, what would a soldier next to a wounded comrade do? ...crap, I didn't know that one either. I looked at the player's face. He couldn't have been any older than me. He had wavy brown hair that had somehow been stained with his own blood. His eyes were a dull brown, which contrasted with the deep red veins crawling around his whites, and he was panicked. Instinctively, I knew they were the eyes of someone that feared he might die. The way his skin became paler didn't help the image. It was almost like he was dying from blood loss!

"Eren."

I had taken first-aid classes before, though in my haze of desperation the memories of that experience became foggy. So I just did what I thought would help. I took off my Scouting Legion cloak and double folded it, then I held it to the player's leg stump. In seconds, the calming green hue became stained with crimson. Growling in frustration, I also took off my military jacket and pressed it over the cloak and tied it around what remained of his leg. I didn't see anymore blood soaking through anymore. I examined the player again. He was struggling to keep his eyes open, and his skin was now deathly white. If it wasn't for his shallow breathing, he could have passed for a corpse.

"EREN!"

I snapped through my haze. Of course! I had Armin freakin' Arlert with me! He'd know what to do. He'd figure out a plan to get us all out of here and find out just what the hell was-

"We should just leave him."

I heard him all too clearly. Despite the loud noise emanating from the mass of Titans below us and the heavy roar of the wind, I heard those five words from Armin more clearly than anything else in my life.

I looked at my friend. I REALLY looked at him. He was unusually calm, and even wore a smile on his face. He wasn't in a panic like I was. "What did you just say?"

Armin laughed, a musical sound that in no way fit the situation. "Come on, Eren, isn't it obvious what's happening here?" No Armin, it isn't. It really fucking isn't. "He's just a hacker!" I must have looked at him like he was crazy, because Armin looked a bit offended. "Wait, you're not actually buying this, are you?"

"What are you talking about Armin?"

"We both know that this game doesn't have any actual blood or dismemberment in it. Plus, you can't feel pain in a VR game because it's illegal." Was he serious? "He's just one of those guys who get their kicks by screwing with other players. He probably just modded his Avatar to have different animations than normal. Now come on," he walked to the edge of the branch and adjusted his 3DMG, "we need to message the Admins about the Logout button. This guy is starting to tick me off."

I won't lie. Something similar crossed my mind. I might have thought it was overacting. But the second the player started to scream, I knew it was real. "Armin, I don't think he's faking this!"

He turned around and gave me the look you'd give to a child who just said something stupid. "Eren, please, now's not the time to act li-"

Armin never got to finish his sentence.

One of the Titans below rammed itself into the tree, causing the entire thing to shake. I quickly got on on all fours to balance myself. I saw Armin stumble at the edge of the branch and fall, his face telling me that he clearly didn't expect for this to happen. If he fell, he'd be at the mercy of those Titans! Gritting my teeth, I got up and jumped off the branch, my hands wrapping around my 3DMG grips. There was nowhere nearby other than the branch I had just abandoned for my gear to launch a line at. Instead, I sent one my cables back to the branch and the other at Armin, hoping against hope that he'd be able to see it and grab on.

He didn't.

What happened instead was that my cable shot through his leg, impaling him in the thigh. With a sudden jerk, I felt my 3DMG strain against the sudden weight. Armin must have had it worse, though. He was now hanging upside down above a the gathering of Titans, and his entire body was limp, probably from shock.

"SON OF A BITCH!" Or, maybe not. "GODDAMMIT! PULL ME UP, PULL ME UP!"

I pressed the trigger on my controls and watched as Armin slowly ascended, away from the Titans who were desperately clawing at him. To his credit, he seemed to realize fidgeting would only make it worse, and was completely still on the way up. Once he was close enough, I grabbed him by the back of his jacket and turned him right side up. Since we were both still hanging in midair, it was easier said and done.

As soon as he could tell up from down again, Armin shot a line from his 3DMG and hung off the branch, just like I was. I observed his face, and saw that he was struggling not to breathe hard, and his face was almost entirely red. He stared at me for a while and with a shaky voice said, "Thanks, Eren."

I ignored his thanks in favor for examining his leg. "Are you okay? I didn't mean to-"

"I know you didn't." He brushed away my concern with a wave of his hand and a small grin. "Still, I can't believe how much that hur-" He stopped, and at that moment, he looked absolutely terrified. "...it...hurt. It's not supposed to hurt..." I saw a flash of realization come from him, and without a warning, he zipped back up to the branch. Curious about whatever it was that Armin had suddenly realized, I followed after him. After I had reached the branch and gotten back up to my feet, I saw Armin looking around for something.

"What are-"

"Eren." He turned around, and a look of dread was on his face. "Where did that player go?"

In my rush to save Armin, I had completely forgotten about my impromptu patient. He wasn't where I had left him, that was for sure.

And then it happened.

I saw the familiar flash of light, the same light that heralded the arrival of a fellow player, envelop Armin. In less than a second, there was only empty air where my friend had stood. I could only stare dumbly ahead for the first few moments. Then, when panic started to creep into my mind, the light suddenly came for me too.

I was no longer in the forest. Instead, I was now in an all too familiar place.

The Wall was huge, so much so that it surprised me to see that the top of it was packed with so many people. I had just arrived, and now I was surrounded by other players on all sides. Everyone wore the same brown military uniform, differentiated only by their respective Branch insignia's. Some wore the green cloaks of the Scouting Legion, others carried the trademark rifles of the Military Police. Flashes of blue light came every few moments, bringing with them players that were as surprised as I was. So many different faces. However, there was a common theme among us all; none of us had any idea what was going on.

Once the shock had worn off, I realized that I couldn't see Armin. I started pushing my way through the crowd, ignoring all the protests and indignant cries in my wake. Even then, I wasn't able to move much due to the sheer amount of bodies shuffling around me. I called out Armin's name, hoping that my friend would hear me, and I would find him, and he would answer all the questions that were burning their way through my brain. But that didn't happen. If anything, my yelling just panicked the crowd. The sea of players began to rock more violently, and I thought that if I didn't get out of there I might suffocate-

A bolt of orange lightning descended from the heavens, a resounding boom following on it's trail until the bolt struck the ground in front of the Wall. A great flash blinded me, and I could imagine it also did so to the rest of the crowd. The white afterimage dominated my vision for a couple of seconds, and then it began to clear up. I almost wish it hadn't.

It had returned.

The Colossal Titan, in all it's horror.

In the beta, I had the fortune of seeing it from far away. Now, I saw the god-like being up close. Granted, I could only see it's face, but that was enough to silence the crowd. Every muscled sinew, every single impossibly sharpened tooth. It was almost like staring into the visage of Death itself

And then it opened it's mouth.

"Welcome, players, to my world..."

...


AN: Ah, despair. Quite possibly the most alluring thing about the world of Shingeki no Kyojin. It took me, and I kid you not, days to figure out the perfect end to this chapter. At least, I think it is, but Rick says it comes off as a little bit cheesy. To which I promptly deleted all his hentai. But I (and most of the civilized world) don't really care about Rick's opinions. As a matter of fact, I care about yours! ...I, I'm basically telling you to leave a review. And after that, go out and make the world a better place by supporting the anime industry, telling Hajime Isayama to make Eren/Mikasa an official thing, and pray to the zombie overlords that Borderlands 2 for the Vita won't be delayed. Seriously, I wanna shoot a psycho midget in the face while I'm waiting in line at the movie theaters, scream "Yeah, bitch!", and get kicked out. Make it happen.

Viva la Lunacy!

And yes, grenades, at least primitive ones, exist in AGO. If they can have cannons and steam-punk cable-launchers, then I'm pretty sure they can stuff some gunpowder in a ball. Besides, I saw the 3DS game previews, and they have friggin' portable boomsticks. I can do what I want! Also, I'd like some feedback regarding the 3DMG. I'm having a little difficulty writing those pesky action scenes.