Armin looked at the unfolding scene in horror.
The Colossal Titan continued to pick up houses, the heat of his body setting them on fire, and then tossed them down, expanding the ring of fire that Shiganshina was becoming.
Armin was at a loss of what to do. Bertolt had acted completely differently to how he had anticipated, and now he and his friends might be the only survivors - if they could come up with a plan of counterattack before Bertolt's flames and debris finished them off.
Connie and Sasha's faces displayed the rising panic that Armin was trying to suppress.
"What about Hange?" Connie cried.
"Did they really all just die in that blast?" Sasha asked hysterically.
Mikasa stepped forward, trying her best to appear calm. "We don't know. But Bertolt isn't going to give us a time out to go save them."
Mikasa placed her hand on Armin's shoulder. "For now, we take orders from you Armin."
Everyone looked at Armin expectedly, who felt himself buckling under the pressure of the position that had suddenly been forced upon him.
Armin swallowed nervously. "B-Begin...retreating. We'll meet with the Commander's group and seek his orders."
Armin continued, feeling slightly more confident. "We'll follow our original plan of fighting a war of attrition against the Colossal Titan. We'll keep trying to make him use his Titan's strength until our main target appears. His gigantic body won't be able to make it over the wall. So we just have to trap him inside this cage until he exhausts his power."
Jean glanced at the wall, then back at Armin. "Hold on. We can't let Bertolt get near the wall where the Commander's group is. He's torching everything around him. Just because there's a wall between us and the horses on the other side, that doesn't mean they're safe. We still share the same sky!"
Armin's eyes widened. "Oh…"
Jean nodded. "In other words, if the fire spreads to the buildings inside the wall, dead horses won't be all we'll have to worry about. The Commander's group will be sandwiched between the Bestial Titan to their front and flames to their back."
Jean looked at Armin grimly. "Yes, a war of attrition is the best way to defeat the Colossal Titan, but we have limited supplies too. The gas in our ODM gear. It looks like time isn't on either of our sides."
Armin glanced away uncertainly, beads of sweat forming on his forehead. "Well...then...does that mean...we have to defeat the Colossal Titan right now? With only the strength of those here at this very moment?"
A few seconds after Armin had finished speaking, several burning houses fell about a block away, shaking the ground and air and visibly frightening his friends.
Connie looked at the flames nervously. "A-Armin! The fire's getting close!"
"Come on!" Sasha cried. "We need orders!"
Armin felt frozen, unsure of what on earth to do.
Bertolt's face suddenly flooded his thoughts.
"I know...so long as you're standing there, shaking...you can't do a damned thing."
Armin lowered his eyes. Damn it...I thought I'd grown somewhat...but in the end…
His mind flickered back to when he had been cornered by the Female Titan, his body motionless as she examined him.
I'm no different from then. All I could do was cower in fear...I couldn't do anything…
He thought back to the two Scouts she'd killed right in front of him, their bloody remains scattering across the ground.
I couldn't help them. All I could do was sit there uselessly. I couldn't even assist them with the abnormal that showed up before she did. All I could do was watch as they took it…
Armin froze. As they...took it down…
Armin's mind began to race, and he peeked out to get another look at the Colossal Titan, his fear ebbing away slightly. All at once, a plan had hit him like a lightning bolt.
Mikasa looked at him in concern. "Armin?"
Armin's eyes lit up. "He's big, but when you get down to it, he's no different from the other Titans."
Jean looked at him uncertainly.
Armin turned around, his face no longer fearful, which reassured his friends a little. "Guys, I have a plan. We are going to take down the Colossal Titan. I need you all to listen to me very carefully…"
Bertolt surveyed the unfolding destruction beneath him. The flames were spreading outward in all directions, and he was fairly confident that anyone who had not been blown away by his initial transformation had almost certainly perished in the fires.
He took no joy from this fact, merely grim satisfaction. With that done, he began to slowly make his way toward the wall.
He spotted the commander on top of the wall, observing the situation.
Bertolt watched him carefully. So, Commander Erwin. I wonder, will you come up with a plan to counter us?
After Bertolt had crossed about half of the distance between the wall and his starting point, the Commander suddenly disappeared over the wall.
Hmmm, he's going down to the other side. Warchief Zeke must have begun the next phase of the plan. Between his deadly throws and my flames, the scouts are finished.
Bertolt sighed mentally. It's a shame, but it's for the best. If we can end it here, all this killing will finally stop. I just hope Reiner is…
Bertolt paused. In front of him, directly between him and the wall, was Eren's Titan, glaring up at him defiantly.
Bertolt eyed him critically. So he's still alive. I expected as much. However…
While he was too far away to make them out clearly, he could see three people standing on Eren's shoulders.
Looks like a few of them managed to survive. It would have been better for them if they had died.
Suddenly, Eren's Titan let out a frustrated and angry roar that echoed throughout the blazing district.
I understand your anger Eren. But you might as well give up. You can't beat me.
Bertolt resumed his slow advance toward the wall. At the same time, Eren began to walk slowly toward him, the three people still perched on his shoulders.
What are you thinking Eren? Are you determined to go down fighting? You're too small to hurt me, and all I need to do is step on you or kick you once.
Eren kept moving forward.
Fine. Have it your way.
The two Titans continued to slowly walk toward each other.
He's almost in range. One good kick, and he's…
Suddenly, Eren let out another roar, this one much louder than the first.
Bertolt winced slightly at the unexpected noise, but quickly recovered.
What, are you trying to scare me Eren? That's going to be pretty hard, considering…
Bertolt paused, because he realized that the three people that had been on Eren's shoulders were suddenly gone.
Bertolt then noticed a series of movements directly below him, and saw the three people using their ODM gear to scale up his massive body. While he couldn't feel it, he could tell that they were using his body as an anchor for their wires.
Now that they were up close, Bertolt could clearly see that the three people were Connie, Sasha, and Armin. The three scouts soared up near his head and upper chest. Armin's face was neutral, while Sasha and Connie looked angry.
"HEY! OVER HERE YOU BIG SON OF A BITCH!"
"WE'RE GOING TO KNOCK YOU DOWN TO SIZE!"
"YOU'LL PAY FOR ALL THE LIVES YOU'VE TAKEN!"
"YOU DIE TODAY YOU BASTARD!"
Bertolt ignored their words and kept his attention focused on Armin.
So, if you're still alive, then the others must be following a plan you came up with. With all this yelling, you guys must be a diversion…
Bertolt noticed a flicker of movement in his peripheral vision.
...so another person can go for my nape. Not bad, but you'll have to do better.
Just before the person behind him could reach his nape, he let out a blast of steam, blowing everyone around him away.
I'll be honest Armin, I'm a little disappointed. I expected-
Bertolt suddenly froze as he felt a spike of pain in the back of his right foot just above the ankle. It felt like someone had taken a handful of toothpicks and jabbed them into his foot.
Suddenly, the toothpicks exploded, tearing apart his muscles and shattering part of his fibula bone.
With his right foot suddenly no longer able to support his weight, Bertolt felt himself begin to tilt backwards. In an attempt to right himself, he placed more weight on his left foot and raised his arms out to help with balance. In order to do this, he stopped the burst of steam on all parts of his body except for his nape.
As the steam cleared, Bertolt spotted Connie and Sasha sailing toward him, looking slightly burned but overall still fine, their spears upraised.
What are they-
The next second, the world went black as he felt a series of pricks inside each of his eyes, before his eyes were painfully torn apart, the stinging causing him to involuntarily cry out in pain. It took him a moment to realize what had happened. They had imbedded their spears in his eyes, and then the spears had exploded.
Shit! What the hell were those?!
The realization that he could no longer see sank in, and he began to panic slightly.
This panic was not helped by the further realization that he had involuntarily recoiled backwards while having his eyes gouged out, causing him to tip precariously back.
No! I can't fall!
Bertolt put more weight on his left leg and lifted his right leg slightly off the ground in an attempt to steady himself. But the next second, he felt a series of cuts slicing down his left leg, tearing through numerous muscles. A few seconds after that, he felt two pairs of swords carving up his right arm and one pair of swords carving up his left arm.
Unable to fully control his limbs any longer, Bertolt lost his balance and his gigantic body began to fall backwards, descending down and meeting the ground with a thunderous boom that shook the whole district.
His back screamed in protest as he felt his entire body being jabbed by the remains of various houses.
Ow...damn...you...Armin...I underestimated you...but what do you expect to do-
Suddenly, Bertolt felt his legs being sliced up again.
The next second, he suddenly felt a massive pressure on his waist, like someone had pummeled him in the stomach with the hilt of a knife. As he felt further pressures moving up his stomach and onto his chest, he realized that the pressures were actually foot steps. Someone was walking on him.
In an attempt to stop him, Bertolt let out another blast of steam. The attacks on his legs ceased at once, but Eren didn't stop. Letting out another roar, Eren reached forward and using his teeth and hands began to tear open Bertolt's neck.
He's...he's trying to dig through to the nape. I have to get out of here!
Hoping the steam from his Titan body would provide him the cover to escape, Bertolt emerged from the nape, readied his ODM gear, and began to flee.
"Oh no you don't!"
Bertolt glanced over his shoulder and his heart sank as he saw the very last person he wanted to see, Mikasa, brandishing a pair of swords at him.
Mikasa flew directly at him, and would have killed him then and there under normal circumstances. But because part of Bertolt's body had been stripped away from his time inside his Titan body, his body was slightly lighter than normal, and thus he was slightly faster than normal, and just barely managed to dodge Mikasa's attack.
Not expecting this, Mikasa soared past him, and Bertolt continued to make his escape.
Mikasa cried in anger. "No! I won't let you get away!"
Bertolt faced forward, determined to make it out of there alive.
Suddenly, he saw a flicker of movement in his peripheral, and the next second his legs were blown up beneath him. Screaming in pain, he crashed onto a nearby roof and came to an abrupt stop lying face down into the wood.
DAMN IT! DAMN IT!
Before he could even try to get up, he felt his arms being sliced off. He cried out in pain, and was forcefully turned around and found himself looking into the faces of two people. One was Mikasa. And the other…
Hange looked down at him grimly with her one good eye. "It's over, Bertolt."
As Mikasa stared down at Bertolt's shocked face, the realization that they had actually defeated the Colossal Titan began to sink in.
It had worked. Armin's simple but brilliant plan had worked.
Mikasa and Jean had followed the Colossal Titan from behind, making sure to keep a safe distance from him and the flames. At the same time, Eren would carry the others toward the wall to preserve their gas, and when he was sure Bertolt had noticed him, he would let out a roar. This would signal to Mikasa and Jean that he had Bertolt's attention, and thus they could get closer to the enormous Titan.
Once Eren had gotten reasonably close to the Colossal Titan, he would let out a second roar, signally everyone to begin their attack. Armin, Connie, and Sasha would get in Bertolt's face and yell at him, getting his attention. While they did that, Mikasa would then go straight for the nape with her blades.
There was a slim chance that this alone would be enough, but Armin felt that Bertolt would be smart enough to see through it, and thus Mikasa's attack was another diversion.
As soon as Bertolt released a cloud of steam to protect himself, Jean would strike the shifters' right foot using his and Mikasa's thunder spears. After that, they would have to move quickly.
In order to ensure that the Colossal Titan would fall, Mikasa would dive down and slice up the back of the Titans' left leg. Connie and Sasha would blind him, and then they would slice up the right arm, while Armin would deal with the left arm. They would all then retreat to avoid being smacked by the Colossals' falling body.
Once the massive Titan was down, their first goal was to make sure he did not get back up. To that end they would continue to inflict injuries on his limbs, with Armin taking the left arm, Sasha taking the right arm, Connie taking the right leg, and Jean taking the left leg.
While they were doing this, Eren's job would be to climb onto the Colossal Titan and force his way down to the nape, while Mikasa was positioned near the head, her job being to stop Bertolt if he tried to make a run for it.
A job she had nearly failed to carry out, but thanks to the unexpected appearance of Hange, Bertolt was down for the count.
Mikasa looked at Hange in concern. The veteran scout's glasses were gone, and the left side of her face was badly burned.
"Are you alright?" She asked tentatively.
Hange nodded shortly. "Yes I'm fine."
Mikasa hesitated. "...and the others?"
Hange's eye dimmed, and she shook her head slightly.
Mikasa lowered her gaze. "I'm so-"
"We can mourn later." Hange said briskly.
She knelt down next to what was left of Bertolt's body. Bertolt looked back at her, the fear and panic on his face gone and replaced with grim resignation.
Hange cleared her throat. "So, Bertolt, will you tell us what we want to know?"
Bertolt glanced away. "No."
Hange sighed. "I figured as much."
She abruptly punched him in the face, knocking him out.
"Whoa, we actually got him?!"
Mikasa and Hange turned around and saw Connie standing a few yards away on a nearby roof, looking almost ecstatic.
Mikasa's eyes widened. "Connie. You're okay…"
Jean soon followed Connie, and a moment later Eren emerged from the massive steaming cloud the Colossal Titans body was becoming and approached their group.
Hange looked at them all. "Well, I'm impressed. To think you guys managed to come up with a plan to bring down the Colossal Titan, and so quickly too."
Jean shrugged. "It was actually Armin who came up with the idea. You can ask him…"
Jean, Connie, and Mikasa looked around when they realized that there was no further signs of movement, with the only other people in sight being Eren and Hange.
Mikasa froze. Where are Sasha and Armin?
She abruptly readied her gear and went back the way she had come.
Seeming to have the same thought, Connie, Jean, and Eren began to follow her back toward the Colossal Titans' dissolving corpse, with Hange following close behind after securing Bertolt.
They first found Sasha a little distance away from the remains of the Colossal's right arm, lying sprawled on the rooftops, unconscious with a trail of blood coming down her face.
Connie's eyes widened. "Sasha!"
He and Jean reached her first, and while Connie fretted and quickly bandaged her wounds, Jean looked back at Mikasa, Hange and Eren with a tired smile.
"She's a bit banged up, but she looks like she'll be okay. She must have gotten hit with some debris when the Colossal Titan landed."
Mikasa relaxed slightly, but not completely, as there was still no sign of Armin.
Jean and Connie remained by Sasha's side, while Eren, Hange, and Mikasa continued to search for Armin.
When Mikasa finally found him, she could almost feel her heart stopping as she took in his crumpled form.
While he was sprawled on a rooftop next to some debris similar to how Sasha had been, it was clear that Armin was more than just a little banged up. His clothes were torn, his face looked like someone had used it for a cutting board, and his arms were bent backwards at unnatural angles, with his right hand facing the wrong direction. Worst of all, there was a mess of blood and wood where his legs should have been, the red liquid dripping down the side of the roof and onto the ground below.
Mikasa put a hand over her mouth. "Oh, Armin…"
Mikasa knelt down next to her dying friend, gently touching his side. "Armin...how...why…"
Hange stared down at the young Scout with a look of sorrow, while Eren's Titan's eyes were wide in disbelief.
Mikasa felt tears welling up in her eyes, while Hange roughly set Bertolt down and sat on the edge of the roof, clearly exhausted.
Mikasa glanced at Bertolt, and abruptly stood back up.
Hange looked at her uncertainly. "What is-"
"The serum." Mikasa interrupted. "That serum, that Captain Levi had. It's Armin's only chance!"
Without waiting for confirmation from Hange, Mikasa immediately readied her gear and began soaring through the ruined district toward the inner gate, desperately hoping she would be in time.
Captain Levi, where are you?
Levi stared down at the defeated human form of the Beast Titan, breathing heavily.
It had worked. Erwin's desperate plan had worked, and now the bastard responsible for the slaughter of the Survey Corps was in front of him, helpless.
And yet, Levi couldn't bring himself to feel glad, knowing that even if he had won the day, even if he could avenge himself upon this man, it wouldn't bring back those who had given their lives on that day.
Or at least, not all of them.
Levi glanced back at the now silent battlefield. I can't kill this guy just yet. If there's at least one person still alive out there...it doesn't matter how badly they're injured, as long as they're still breathing...I can use this injection to turn them into a Titan...and have them eat this guy and steal the Bestial Titan power...isn't there anyone…
Levi froze. Wait a minute...wasn't there another Titan?
Levi turned around, and as if in answer to his question he saw the quadruped Titan running straight towards him, its mouth wide open and eyes filled with anger.
Levi knew he only had seconds, so he quickly withdrew his blade from the human form of the Beast Titan. (Ignoring the further damage he was causing to the man's face)
He then fired his hook into the quadruped Titan's left shoulder and propelled himself into the air. The Titans' mouth snapped shut, missing Levi's body by inches. Levi then flung himself forward and in one swift motion severed the Titans' left limbs from its body.
The Titan abruptly crashed to the ground, skidding to a stop just in front of the human form of the Beast Titan, letting out a bellow of pain and confusion.
But Levi wasn't done yet. After pivoting in the air, he fired his hook into the Titans' right thigh, flung himself forward again, and severed the Titans right limbs from its body, leaving it completely defenseless.
Before it could recover, Levi zipped over to the nape and sliced it open, with the intention of cutting the shifters' arms off. After reaching down, grabbing the shifters' hair, and yanking them out into the open, he could see that he had succeeded.
He was also able to see that the shifter was a woman, looking up at him in astonishment and fear.
Levi let out a heavy sigh through his nose. "Well, you were even easier to take down then your friend over there."
The woman's eyes widened, and she tried to kick Levi. But Levi easily avoided the clumsy attack, and sliced off her legs in response, causing her to let out a shriek of pain.
Levi felt a twinge of sympathy for her, which he quickly suppressed after reminding himself of all the people that they had just killed.
Levi picked her up roughly by the collar and slid down the quadruped Titans' face, coming to a stop a few feet from the human form of the Beast Titan. The man was trying to squirm away from Levi, a task made difficult by the fact that he only had one working limb left.
Levi raised an eyebrow. "And just where do you think you're going?"
The man looked back at Levi and the female shifter, and immediately looked at the remaining Titans.
He raised his voice. "ALL OF YOU! KI-"
But before he could complete his sentence, Levi kicked the man in the head, knocking several of his teeth out.
Levi glanced at the Titans nervously, but while they were looking their way, they showed no signs of moving from their positions.
Levi dropped the woman and walked over to the man, who glared up at him.
Levi looked down at him indifferently. "It seems those Titans are under your command. So if you can't talk, they can't obey your orders. Am I right?"
The man said nothing, continuing to glare at him.
Levi smiled humorlessly. "I'll take that as a yes."
Levi then used his sword to cut off the man's lower jaw, being none too gentle about it either. The man continuously screamed in pain, and when it was over, a mixture of blood, bile, and saliva was dripping down onto the man's chest. For good measure, Levi cut off the man's remaining leg, though the man barely reacted to this final dismemberment.
Levi then dragged the man back to the place where he'd left the woman, who was lying helplessly on her back, tears running silently down her cheeks.
Levi glanced back and forth at them. "So, I doubt you guys will give me any in depth information, but could I at least get your names?"
The man glared at him.
"Oh right, I suppose you can't really tell me your name right now, can you?"
Levi glanced back at the woman. "Perhaps you can enlighten me, unless you'd prefer the same treatment I gave him?"
The woman looked at him in horror, before closing her eyes in defeat.
She whispered. "My name...is Pieck. And his...his is Zeke."
Levi raised an eyebrow. "Pieck and Zeke, huh? Well, since you shared, my name is Levi."
Levi grabbed them both by the collar and dragged them over to the nearest set of bodies, which happened to be the last three recruits the Beast Titan had killed. After verifying that the three were truly deceased, he then took off their clothes and created makeshift bandages and splints out of them to cover the shifters' stumps in order to prevent them from regrowing their limbs. This done, he began dragging the two shifters back toward the inner gate, hoping he would find someone, anyone, still alive.
Then, all of a sudden, he spotted someone jogging toward him. As the person got closer, he recognized them as one of the fresh recruits, Floch he vaguely recalled. He also noticed that Floch was carrying someone on his back.
Before long Floch was right in front of him. "Captain! Are these…?"
Levi glanced back at his prisoners. "Yeah, they're the human forms of the Titans who were behind this attack."
Floch looked both relieved and anxious. "Thank goodness."
Floch flung the person on his back to the ground, and Levi's eyes widened as he realized it was Commander Erwin.
Floch looked up at him anxiously. "He's still alive, but his wounds are serious, and I can't stop the bleeding. Do you think…?"
Levi nodded. "Yes."
Levi then unceremoniously dropped Zeke right next to Erwin, the man letting out an involuntary grunt of pain.
Levi held Pieck out to Floch. "Take her for me. Go over there, quickly, alright?"
Floch nodded. "Yes sir."
Floch then picked up Pieck and began to carry her away. Pieck looked confused as to what they were doing.
Once Floch was a fair distance away, Levi took out the injection and began to assemble the syringe.
Upon seeing the syringe, Pieck lost all control. "OH GOD NO! NO! ZEKE, YOU CAN'T! NOT HERE, NOT LIKE THIS! LET HIM GO! YOU DEVILS! YOU WILL-"
Floch dropped her and grabbed her by the throat, looking down at her with unrestrained anger. "Devils? You break down our wall, kill thousands upon thousands of our people, and when we try to reclaim what is rightfully ours you slaughter us mercilessly, and you dare to call us devils?! I will-"
Pieck and Floch both fell silent at Levi's word.
Levi glanced at them tiredly. "She's trying to rile you up with words because it's the only weapon she has left. Just ignore her."
Floch grimaced, but reluctantly nodded, and continued to walk away. Pieck stopped her screaming, and began to sob uncontrollably as she was taken further and further away from Zeke.
The syringe complete, Levi glanced down at Zeke and the Commander. Unlike Pieck, Zeke didn't appear angry or frightened anymore, merely resigned and bitter.
Levi held up the syringe. Hmm. Since we actually managed to capture two shifters, I'll start with just half of the injection and see if that's enough to turn him into a Titan. If it's not, then I'll give him the whole thing, but taking two powers would be quite useful. It would almost make up for the sacrifices that had to be made today.
Levi grimaced. Almost.
Without hesitation, Levi injected the syringe into Erwin's arm.
After Levi got a safe distance away, he heard an explosion and turned around to see a burst of light.
Once the light faded, Levi could see that Erwin had turned into a 10 meter Titan. The Titan's face looked vaguely like Erwin's, but the eyes were vacant, and its head was noticeably too small for its body.
The Titan glanced at Levi, before picking up the human closest to it, Zeke, and raised him to his mouth. Levi looked away as the Titan bit down, spraying blood everywhere.
A few moments later, the Titan collapsed, and steam began to pour out of its body as if its vital spot had been cut.
Levi cautiously approached the Titan body, and was relieved when he saw the Commander lying face down on the ground, his eyes surrounded by the same strange markings shifters had after recently transforming.
Levi smiled softly, and gently picked up the Commander's unconscious form.
Before long he caught up with Floch, who was carrying a now unconscious Pieck.
Levi frowned. "What happened?"
Floch scowled. "She wouldn't stop crying, and it was really pissing me off, so I decked her in the face."
Levi sighed, but decided not to comment. "See if there are any other survivors."
Floch looked around the battlefield, his face pale. "Yes sir."
Unfortunately, they were unable to find any more survivors, only the dead and maimed corpses of their comrades and horses.
As they got near the few houses that were still standing, Levi suddenly spotted some movement along the main road.
A moment later, Mikasa flew down to the ground and stared out at the battlefield, her eyes wide in disbelief.
Levi and Floch walked up to her.
Mikasa looked at them in shock. "What...what happened? Where are…?"
Levi looked down. "They're dead. The Beast Titan killed them all."
"Oh." Mikasa bowed her head. "And the Beast Titan?"
"He's dead." Levi answered shortly.
Mikasa looked like she didn't know how to take the news, whether to be happy or grieved.
She suddenly gasped. "Captain, do you still have that injection?"
Levi blinked in surprise. "Yeah, I do."
Mikasa looked at him urgently. "We managed to take down the Colossal Titan, but Armin is seriously injured. Please, you have to give him that injection now, before it's too late!"
Levi's eyes widened slightly, before he nodded his head. "Alright. Take the commander for me, will you?"
Mikasa nodded. "Right."
With the commander now in Mikasa's hands, Levi readied his gear and sped off toward the inner gate. Before long he had passed the gate and was soaring over the abandoned district of Shiganshina.
His search was made easier by the fact that Eren was still in his Titan form, and provided an easy landmark for him to head to. When he arrived, he saw Hange standing at the head of the group near Eren, Jean kneeling down next to Armin's crumpled form, next to which was placed what was left of Bertolt, and further away Connie was tending to Sasha.
Hange gasped in shock. "Captain! What…"
"We can discuss things later." Levi answered. "Right now it seems that Armin needs help?"
Jean looked up anxiously. "Yes. Do you have the injection?"
Levi nodded. "Yes. All of you, get back."
After everyone had gotten away from the rooftop, Levi glanced down at Armin and Bertolt's unconscious forms, and without hesitation injected Armin with the rest of the serum. His job finished, he quickly moved away.
While the others watched the process, this time Levi looked away the entire time, and tried to block out Bertolt's screams. After a moment, there was a crash, and just as with the commander, Armin's form emerged from the Titans' nape.
After Jean and Hange had retrieved Armin, Eren emerged from his Titan and stepped onto the roof.
Eren looked at Levi uncertainly. "So...what happened?"
Levi looked away. "Short answer, we won. But...well, I'd rather wait until the others get here, as I only want to explain this once if possible."
Eren nodded. "Right."
A few minutes later, Mikasa arrived carrying Erwin, while Floch arrived carrying Pieck.
Jean and Connie looked at Pieck curiously.
Hange glanced at Erwin, then back at Levi. "So, what happened?"
Levi then explained what had transpired on the other side of the wall, how the Beast Titan had begun to throw a deadly barrage of rocks, and how Erwin had come up with a last, desperate plan to take down the Beast Titan. He described how the plan had worked, how he had taken down the Beast Titan and the quadruped Titan, and then used half of the injection on Erwin so that he could take the Beast Titan's power.
After they had processed this information, Mikasa then explained what had happened on their side of the wall, how Bertolt had transformed and wiped most of the scouts out, but unknowingly left a few alive. She then described Armin's plan, how they had carried it out and succeeded in taking down Bertolt, and how they had found Sasha and Armin injured.
Mikasa looked at Armin. "So, I take it you used the other half of the injection on him?"
Levi nodded. "Yes."
Hange looked amazed. "Incredible. We've managed to acquire both the Beast Titan power and the Colossal Titan power. In one battle we've gained a great deal while depriving the enemy. The sacrifices made today will be repaid by the opportunities this opens up for us."
Floch gestured at Pieck. "Not to mention we've got her as well. She could prove to be quite useful."
Eren shook his head. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. We still have a lot of work that needs to be done. Although I'll admit, I'm a little relieved that the fate of humanity no longer rests solely on my shoulders."
Connie looked down anxiously. "I just hope Sasha will be okay."
Jean patted him sympathetically on the shoulder. "I'm sure she'll be fine."
Mikasa looked at Levi and smiled warmly. "Thank you for saving Armin."
Hange stood up. "Well, despite everything I think we can declare this day a success, albeit one snatched by the skin of our teeth. Let's head up to the wall where it's a little safer."
Levi glanced at her sharply. "Wait a minute. Whatever happened to the Armored Titan?"
This was, without a doubt, the worst day of Reiner's life.
While he'd been through a lot, he didn't think there would ever come a day worse than the day Marcel had been eaten. Fate, it seemed, had a cruel sense of humor.
What made it all the more terrible was that he couldn't remember most of the day. The last thing he remembered clearly was parting ways with Bertolt, and then, nothing. Nothing but scattered fragments he couldn't make sense of.
When he came to, he was in Titan form, lying amidst the ruins of Shiganshina. He had no idea how he had gotten there, and didn't understand why there was no one else nearby.
After standing up, he spotted Bertolt in his Titan form headed toward the wall, a series of fires raging around him. Reiner deduced that he must have acted as bait for the scouts, and then Bertolt had transformed and killed them all. His armor would have protected him, but apparently the force of the explosion had knocked him out for a few minutes.
Still, Reiner couldn't help but feel that he was missing something.
After hearing Eren roar somewhere on the other side of the district, Reiner began heading in the same direction as Bertolt in order to assist him. While he wasn't sure what was going on, he did know that if they could capture Eren, victory would be theirs.
After Eren roared a second time, Reiner got a sinking feeling. He peered around Bertolt's legs, trying to spot Eren, but was unable to.
And then, the unthinkable happened. It occurred so fast that Reiner could never say for sure what happened. One moment, Bertolt was standing tall and strong, the next moment he was falling.
Falling. Reiner was in shock. How was it possible for Bertolt, the Colossal Titan, the God of destruction, to fall? This had to be a mistake.
Reiner was so stunned that he realized too late that he should get away from Bertolt before he hit the ground.
When Bertolt crashed to the ground, the impact shook the whole district, and tons of debris was launched into the air.
When Bertolt's head hit the ground, it sent the remains of several houses flying, and a few of them smashed into Reiner, sending him sliding back and burying him under a pile of debris and rubble. The sudden collision knocked him out again for a few minutes.
When he came to, it took him some time to dig his way out. After freeing himself, he noticed that Bertolt's Titan was gone, and apart from some nearby fires the district was eerily silent.
Reiner was overcome with dread, and began winding his way through the ruined streets, trying to find out what had happened to Bertolt.
As he made his way around one final corner, Reiner laid eyes on a sight that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
A long distance away there was a cluster of people standing on one of the roofs. On another roof nearby there was one person lying down by themselves.
And crawling toward this lone person was a five meter Titan, with a twisted, hollow face.
Reiner's eyes widened. Is that...Armin?!
The Titan picked up the lone person, and while he was too far away to tell who it was by looking at them, as soon as the person began to scream, Reiner knew that the person about to be eaten was Bertolt.
Reiner screamed at himself to start running, to save his friend. But he found himself unable to move, filled with equal parts horror and despair. No matter how fast he was, he knew he was too far away to stop it. Another friend of his was about to die, and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it.
Reiner was unable to make out most of Bertolt's screams clearly, but he did catch his last words.
Then the Titan bit down, silencing him forever.
Reiner remained frozen for several more minutes, and during that time he saw several of the people on the other roof swoop down to retrieve the person emerging from the Titans' nape.
Eventually Reiner broke himself out of his shock and hid behind a nearby house to avoid being spotted.
And now here he was, his mind racing, feeling just as scared and helpless as he had felt after watching Marcel die.
Pull yourself together damn it. You're a warrior, and you've got a job to do. Focus.
Reiner let out a heavy sigh. Okay. Most of the scouts on this side of the wall are dead, and Warchief Zeke should be able to wipe out all the scouts on the other side of the wall, assuming he hasn't already. That's good.
However, Bertolt is dead, and it seems that the scouts have found out how to obtain the power of the Titans, and have stolen the Colossal Titan power. Damn...what do I do?
Hmm. I'll see if I can get closer to them. That Titan looked a lot like Armin, so I'm guessing he's the one who has the Colossal now. If the opportunity is there, I'll try to grab him, flee to the inner gate, and seek further orders from Zeke.
Reiner nodded to himself, and began to put his plan into motion.
He slowly crept down the streets, trying to be as stealthy as he could for a Titan, and made his way over to where the survivors were gathered.
To his good fortune, Reiner was able to find a vantage point that gave him a clear view while making it very difficult for the others to spot him. He peered around a building to get a better look.
The first person he spotted was Captain Levi, who was standing near the unconscious form of Commander Erwin.
Damn it. Of all the people to survive, of course you had to be one of them.
A little distance away, he next spotted Eren, Mikasa, and Armin. Armin was unconscious, while Eren and Mikasa were looking over him.
He has the markings around his eyes. So, I was right, Armin has the Colossal Titan power. We need to get it back. But Eren and Mikasa are right there. This may be harder than I thought.
Reiner continued to scan the rooftop, and his heart stopped when he spotted one person lying near the edge of the roof, with their arms and legs missing.
It can't be...no...it is...Pieck?!
Reiner's eyes widened. She was only playing a support role. There's no way Zeke would ever let her be captured. Does...does that mean something happened to Zeke?!
The situation had gone from bad to worse. As improbable as Bertolt being defeated was, the idea that the Warchief was beaten was utterly foreign and terrifying.
Does...does that mean I'm the only warrior left?!
If he was the only one left, then that meant they had truly lost. And if that was true…
Reiner peeked out again. Eren's right there. If I could grab him and get away, our mission would finally be completed. But I don't know how much strength he has left, and I don't know if I could beat him if he transformed. Plus I don't know what the others would do. I don't think they can hurt me, but if they were able to defeat Bertolt and Zeke, it would be extremely unwise to underestimate them.
Reiner shifted his gaze to Armin. And if I try to take him, all of the same issues apply. As tempting as it is, I can't go for it. I can't die here.
Reiner's gaze settled on Pieck. It's too late for Bertolt. But it's not too late for her. If I grab Eren or Armin, they'll chase me for sure, but if I grab her they might not.
Reiner lowered his eyes. Plus, I made a promise to Ymir.
Reiner straightened up, and began to move.
He barreled through the building and charged down the street directly toward the remaining scouts.
This immediately got their attention, and Reiner caught a few of their exclamations.
"IT'S THE ARMORED TITAN!"
"THAT BASTARD IS STILL ALIVE?!"
They all scattered before Reiner reached them, and as he expected they pulled their unconscious comrades to safety, but left Pieck where she was.
Now's my chance!
Reiner reached out and grabbed her, making sure his grip on her was firm but gentle.
I have to move quickly.
Going as fast as he could, Reiner partially emerged from his Titans' nape, pulled out the metal case containing Ymir's letter to Historia, and tossed it onto the roof where Pieck had been lying.
His work finished, Reiner hastily went back inside the nape, turned around, and began to sprint back the way he had come.
He focused all his energy on speed, trying to get away from them and reach the outer gate as fast as he could. After several minutes of running, he realized that there was no one pursuing him. He relaxed slightly and slowed down a little, though he continued to run.
When he reached the outer gate, Reiner found that it had been sealed shut, much to his shock. Eren must have learned about his Titans' hardening abilities, but it frustrated Reiner to no end that he couldn't remember what had happened.
Unsure whether he would be able to break through it, Reiner decided to play it safe and climb the wall. Hoping she would forgive him for it, Reiner gently placed Pieck on the tip of his tongue so that he would have both hands free for climbing.
As he climbed, Reiner tried to focus on the task immediately before him, putting one hand in front of the other, and tried to avoid thinking about what had happened to Bertolt, what had probably happened to Zeke.
It almost worked.
When he reached the top, Reiner glanced back into Shiganshina. He had hoped that he would never have to come back to the walls after today, but with this massive failure, it was almost certain he would be forced to return.
Assuming he wasn't killed and his power passed on to the next warrior in line.
Reiner smiled bitterly. There was a time where that fate would have terrified him, but now it didn't seem to matter. Marcel was dead. Bertolt was dead. Annie was gone. He'd promised they'd all return home together, and yet it was because of him that could never happen now. What right did he have to go back home when they couldn't?
Reiner felt Pieck stirring on his tongue, and decided to take her out to see how she was doing.
He opened his mouth and carefully pulled her out, setting her on the palm of his right hand. Her legs were still gone, but her arms had grown back.
She opened her eyes and looked up at him unsteadily. He held his hand up to his left shoulder, emerged from the nape so he could look at her with his own eyes, and called out to her.
"Pieck! Are you alright?"
Pieck abruptly burst into tears. "Reiner...thank God...thank you...thank you…"
Reiner was startled, as he had never seen her this emotional before. He hated to distress her further, but he needed to know.
"Pieck...where is Zeke?"
Pieck shuddered and closed her eyes, tears still streaming down her face. "He's dead."
Reiner bowed his head, his worst fears confirmed.
Pieck hiccuped, and clumsily wiped her eyes and nose with the back of her hand.
"Reiner...where is Bertolt?"
Reiner stiffened, and found himself unable to look at her. "He's dead."
Pieck's eyes widened before swiftly closing, tears continuing to stream down her cheeks.
Reiner sighed wearily. "We...we need to get out of here."
Pieck nodded silently.
Reiner gently set her on top of his head, where she would be able to grab onto his hair. After making sure she was secure, he went back inside the nape of his Titan.
Reiner then slowly slid down the wall, and began the long and bitter journey back to the coast, unsure of anything anymore except protecting his last remaining friend.
Armin opened his eyes, and was greeted by the sight of the clear blue sky, a handful of birds flying overhead.
Armin sat up, and found himself lying on top of the wall.
Where...where am I?
Armin glanced to the side, and saw that Sasha was lying down next to him, her face bandaged.
Armin scooted over next to her. "Sasha? Are you okay? Those wounds look bad…"
Armin heard movement behind him and turned around. He saw Eren standing a few feet away, looking as though he'd seen a ghost.
Armin looked at his friend uncertainly. "Eren? What's going-"
Before Armin could say another word, Eren rushed forward and gave him a bear hug.
Eren tightened his grip on his friend. "Welcome back."
Armin frowned, now more confused than ever.
"So, he's finally awake."
Eren stepped back, and Armin looked past him.
Armin blinked. "Captain Levi?"
Armin turned around and saw a small group of people. Near the front was Mikasa, looking extremely relieved about something. Standing next to her was Jean, Connie, and Floch, looking a little exhausted with some minor injuries, but overall appeared to be okay.
Standing off to the side was Hange, who also looked alright, apart from the large bandage covering the left side of her face. Lying down next to her was Commander Erwin, who was out cold.
Mikasa smiled softly. "Don't scare us like that Armin."
Armin looked confused. "What do you mean?"
Mikasa frowned. "You don't remember what happened?"
Armin shook his head. "No. The last thing I remember was Bertolt transforming…"
Armin gasped. "Wait, what happened? Did we win?"
Jean was about to answer when they noticed the Commander stirring.
Erwin opened his eyes.
Hange looked extremely relieved. "Commander. It's good to have you back."
Erwin blinked in surprise, and slowly sat up. "I'm surprised. How...how did I survive?"
He looked down at his hands and his eyes widened.
Armin looked around. "Come to think of it, where is everyone?"
Jean grimaced. "Well, the battle ended about four hours ago. We've been looking, but it appears that the only survivors are those gathered here right now."
Erwin bowed his head, while Armin gasped in horror.
Armin looked at Eren in disbelief. "What...what happened? How...how are we the only ones left?"
Erwin coughed. "I'm rather curious about that as well. Would you mind telling us what transpired while we were out Levi?"
Levi scowled, and glanced at Hange.
Sensing that he didn't want to tell the story again, Hange proceeded to fill Armin and Erwin in on what they had missed. She first recounted how the Beast Titan had started hurling stones at the Commander's group, causing massive casualties. After seeing them caught between the Beast Titan and the Colossal Titan, she explained Erwin's plan to use himself and the recruits as a decoy while Levi would ambush the Beast Titan. She detailed how the plan had worked, how Levi had successfully taken down the Beast Titan and the Quadruped Titan. She concluded by explaining how Floch had somehow survived unscathed, found the badly injured Commander, and brought him to the Captain, who then saved him by injecting him with half of the serum and having him consume the Beast Titan.
Levi looked at Erwin carefully. "You don't seem surprised."
Erwin looked down at his right hand. "Well, after noticing that my arm had mysteriously come back, I figured it was the most likely possibility."
Erwin flexed his fingers. "So. I now have the power of the Beast Titan."
He looked unsure if he was happy about this fact or not.
Armin glanced back at Hange. "What about our side of the wall?"
Hange continued, explaining how Bertolt had transformed and wiped out most of the scouts, but a few had survived. She detailed the plan Armin had come up with to defeat the Colossal Titan.
Erwin looked impressed. "Nicely done. That's a very clever plan, and to come up with it so quickly under that kind of pressure is no small feat."
Armin blushed. "Oh, it was n-nothing."
Connie clapped him on the shoulder. "Are you kidding me? Give yourself a little credit, your plan really saved us."
Armin smiled shyly. "Thanks, though I'd feel more comfortable giving myself credit if I could remember it."
Hange then recounted how they had executed Armin's plan and succeeded in defeating Bertolt. She then explained how they had found Armin and Sasha injured, the former gravely injured, and how Mikasa had found Captain Levi, who then gave Armin the other half of the serum and had him consume the Colossal Titan.
Armin's eyes widened. "So...you're saying...I'm the Colossal Titan now."
Armin took a swig out of his water flask, stunned by this revelation.
Levi nodded. "That's right. So we'll be expecting even more from you now. Understand?"
Armin nodded reluctantly.
Erwin smiled softly. "I guess we have that in common now, Armin. Though I'm sure Eren must be glad that he's not all alone now."
Eren nodded. "Definitely."
Armin frowned. "Hold on. I thought you said you captured the human form of the Quadruped Titan. Where is she?"
Levi scowled. "Tch."
Hange grimaced. "Unfortunately, she's gone. I'm not sure how, but it seems Reiner was somehow able to come back to life."
Armin gasped. "What? But we knocked his head off!"
Hange shook her head. "I don't know. It must have something to do with his Titan abilities. Anyways, he showed up soon after we revived you, and charged straight toward us. We all hastily fled using our gear, making sure to pull you, Erwin, and Sasha out of harm's way. But he didn't even try to attack us or make a move for Eren. Instead, he just grabbed his comrade, turned tail and fled."
Hange sighed. "Some of them wanted to pursue him, but I told them not to. We're low on gas, and we had used up all of our remaining thunderspears taking down the Colossal Titan, so trying to chase after him wouldn't have been a good idea."
Jean glanced at her. "Besides, we were curious about what Reiner had dropped."
Armin blinked. "Dropped?"
Hange held up a small metal container. "Before retreating, Reiner briefly emerged from the nape of his Titan and chucked this down onto a nearby roof. It turned out to contain a letter, from Ymir to Historia."
Connie looked at her sharply. "What?! You didn't tell us that!"
Jean leaned forward eagerly. "What did it say?"
Eren looked uncertain. "Is she okay?"
Hange shook her head. "As the letter was of a rather personal nature, I won't disclose too many details. But Ymir made it clear that she was about to die."
The former members of the 104th looked stunned.
Eren exclaimed. "What? How?!"
Hange sighed. "It seems Ymir went with Reiner and Bertolt not to join them, but rather to make it so that they wouldn't have to return home empty handed after failing to retrieve Eren. Her power is going to be passed on to someone else."
Jean lowered his eyes. "And in order for that to happen…"
"...she has to die." Armin finished grimly. "Damn. I wonder how Historia will take this…"
Eren shook his head. "Ymir. She was…"
"Complicated?" Mikasa suggested. "Despite what she claimed, she was actually a very nice person."
Levi's eyes darkened. "I'm not sure the scouts she killed would agree."
Connie grimaced. "Well, what's done is done. Still, why did she choose them...and now Reiner's escaped...again…"
Hange shrugged. "Well, we got the Colossal Titan, and the Beast Titan, who seemed to be their leader. So even if the Armored and Quadruped Titans got away, we still gained a great deal today."
Floch bowed his head. "Perhaps. But what it cost us to get to this point…"
Erwin carefully stood up. "As I said, it's up to us to give their sacrifices meaning. And we will do just that, by carrying on the fight, just as we've always done."
The others nodded in approval.
Armin carefully stood up, and glanced into Wall Maria.
He gasped. "Whoa."
Just inside the inner gate, a bunch of Titans were roaming around, some scratching at the wall directly beneath them, others wandering around aimlessly.
Levi glanced at the Titans in distaste. "Those were the remaining Titans that had been under the Beast Titans' command. He'd given them orders to blockade the district, which they were good about following at first. But roughly an hour and a half after the Beast Titan died, a few of them began to wander away from their post, and by about thirty minutes ago all of them started behaving like normal Titans again."
Armin looked at the Titans nervously. "So, are they inside Shiganshina?"
Connie smirked. "Nah. They tried, but that boulder the Beast Titan blocked the entrance with made getting in more difficult. The first Titan to try to climb over it happened to be a really fat one, and he got stuck, so now none of them can get in."
Erwin looked thoughtful. "So, that means we can proceed to the basement without worrying about them getting in the way. Eren, you still have that key?"
Eren pulled it out. "Yeah, it's right here."
Erwin nodded. "Very good. Eren, Mikasa, Hange and I will go to the basement to investigate. The rest of you remain here, and keep an eye on those Titans."
Armin saluted along with the others, and watched as his friends descended down the wall.
He glanced back at the ones still on the wall. Levi was staring indifferently down at the Titans below, Jean was talking to Floch about something, and Connie was at Sasha's side, looking at her almost tenderly.
Armin smiled to himself. Despite all the hardships that they had endured, they had pulled through. They were closer than ever before to true freedom, and Armin was now more hopeful than ever that he would be able to see the ocean.
Armin laid back down and closed his eyes, just as several more birds flew by overhead.
Author's Note: So I've had this idea buzzing around in my head for a while, so I decided to finally put it into writing. I don't know if I'll continue this or not. I actually already have ideas for Chapter 2 that take them up to the point where they reach the ocean, but beyond that I'm not sure. If you liked this story, let me know what you think, and maybe share it with other AoT fans. And if you thought it was a piece of shit, let me know what I could do better.
Zeke is an interesting character, but I'm a little disappointed that he hasn't, and probably won't, be properly punished for what he did to the Walldians in the manga. So while some of you may think what I did to him here was overly brutal, frankly I think he got what he deserved.
Also, the reason I kept referring to Pieck's Titan as the Quadruped Titan is because the Scouts would have no way of knowing that the proper name is the Cartman Titan, and it seems like a decent description.