Author's Note: Two quick things. First, really really sorry about the long delay on this chapter. And second, since it's been a while, you might want to reread the last few chapters to refresh your memory or else you might be confused about what's going on.
Willy Tybur stepped through the arch that led to the southern entrance. The building behind him stood tall at six stories, the windows all along its length surrounded with impressive architecture that was a blending of ancient style and modern substance. The building had only been completed the previous year, yet already was an important and key place for meetings of all kinds.
As Willy Tybur made his way to the car that was waiting for him just a few yards away, his faithful guards keeping a close eye on him, he spotted numerous other ambassadors and government officials from all over the world dispersing from the same entrance, all heading off to attend to other matters now that the conference he had been holding was over.
He stepped into the back seat of the car and one of his guards closed the door behind him. The only other occupant in the car besides himself and the driver was Commander Magath.
As someone who had worked closely with Eldians before, and knew more about the overall structure of Marley's military, Willy Tybur had approached Magath for his assistance in becoming a more public figure in the last few weeks. Magath had obliged him and done his best to help, though Willy could tell that the man was slightly intimidated by him, since he was technically the one who ran the country.
The car got started, and with several other cars nearby acting as an escort, the vehicle pulled away from the building and made its way onto the busy streets of the city.
After a few minutes of silence, Magath spoke.
"How did it go?"
Willy Tybur glanced out the window with a frown. "It went fairly well, but not as well as I would have liked. Too many of the other nations are dragging their feet when it comes to dealing with Paradis. We need as many countries on board as possible if we're to have a chance against the island devils."
Magath nodded grimly. "The problem is that many of them are scared, and I can't exactly blame them. Our mission on the island failed, and we're in a much weaker position now then we were before. The whole reason the Mid East Allies declared war on us was to stop us from provoking Paradis any further. It's not hard to see why the world views Marley's attempts to invade the island despite the risks as nothing more than a selfish power move recklessly endangering the safety of the rest of the world. It seems unlikely the islanders could or would make good on the 145th king's threat at the moment, but that possibility, however small, remains a strong reason for many of the nations to leave the island alone."
Willy Tybur turned his gaze toward Magath. "The problem with that is the island is no longer under the control of the royal family, which was bound by its vow of pacifism, but by a new regime with its roots in the Eldian Restorationists. This, given enough time, all but ensures that the Eldian empire will be revived in some form, and the world will once again be plunged into hell."
Magath glanced away, unable to maintain eye contact. "Indeed. But for the immediate future, the only way the various other countries will come together as one against this old enemy is if something big happens, some major incident or change that will serve as a unifier that everyone can rally behind."
Willy Tybur looked down at his clasped hands. "Which is why I'm doing what I'm doing now. The Tybur family has mostly kept to the shadows for the past century, but this generation we've tried to be more engaged and active in the world. Thanks to the actions of our ancestors, our word carries a great deal of weight, so hopefully my words will resonate with the representatives of other nations and rouse them to action."
Magath frowned. "I admire your courage, but I fear it alone won't be enough."
Suddenly, an audible boom traveled through the air, the car vibrating from the impact before the driver hastily slammed the breaks.
Willy Tybur peered out the windows nervously. "What happened?"
Magath opened the door. "Stay here."
He closed the door behind him, and walked away from the car to get a better idea of what was going on.
The convoy of cars escorting Willy Tybur had stopped about halfway across a bridge that went over a river that flowed through the heart of the city. From what he could see, some kind of explosion had been detonated on the far side of the bridge, leaving a flaming wreckage that blocked their path forward, though it appeared that very little damage had been done to the bridge itself.
Several other officers and officials had also gotten out of the cars ahead of them and were looking at the wreckage apprehensively.
Magath turned around sharply to see Willy Tybur standing behind him, looking at the flames with a stunned expression.
"I thought I told you to stay where you were."
Willy Tybur smiled feebly. "Sorry. I just wanted to see-"
Whatever he was about to say was cut off as a gun shot rang out and the side of his head exploded in a shower of blood and gore.
Magath flinched, and out of the corner of his eye saw a man wearing a ghoulish mask and clad in black clothing peering up from the side of the bridge, a smoking gun clutched in his hand.
The assassin disappeared, then suddenly soared up into the air above the convoy. To the casual observer it looked like he was flying, but Magath was just able to make out the cables and the ODM gear the assassin was using to propel himself into the air.
With pinpoint accuracy, the man fired down at the stunned crowd of people below, killing many of them before they could react and filling the stationary cars with numerous holes.
A handful of the guards and soldiers with their wits about them realized they were under attack and quickly brought up their rifles to shoot down the assassin, but he was moving far too fast for them to get a clear shot. He dived down and disappeared underneath the bridge once again.
The soldiers rushed to the side of the bridge and peered over the edge, their guns in hand, ready to shoot down at the assassin in the river. But when they looked down, they saw that he was not in the river, but suspended by one of his cables which was still connected to the bridge. His eyes and guns were aimed straight up, and before the soldiers could even begin to attempt to aim at him he fired, shooting them all in the head or neck one after another. Most of the soldiers fell down dead on top of the bridge, while a few collapsed and pitched down into the river below.
His work done, the assassin fired his cables at one of the nearby buildings and soared away into the depths of the city, leaving the flaming wreckage and bloody corpses behind before the police and paramedics could arrive. The whole incident lasted less than two minutes.
As the other survivors of the attack were escorted away, Magath looked down at Willy Tybur's body with an unreadable expression on his face.
Two days later, Annie found herself making her way to the military HQ for an emergency meeting.
As she walked down the street, she saw numerous people looking over the morning newspaper, fury evident on their faces and talking animatedly with the people around them.
It wasn't hard to guess why. Willy Tybur's death had sparked a massive outrage from both Marley and the international community. While they didn't know exactly who was responsible for the attack, the lone assassin had used ODM gear, a technology that was unique to Paradis island. This indicated that the only ones who could have been behind the attack were the island devils, once more determined to cause trouble and bring suffering to the world.
For most people that explanation was enough, but Annie had her doubts.
Why would Paradis want to assassinate Willy Tybur? What could they possibly gain from it? They are still recovering from the damage that had been inflicted on them, both by the pacifistic royal family that had kept them isolated and ignorant for the past century, and by Marley after they destroyed Wall Maria. They have no reason to want a war with the world. And even if they did want to go to war, this still makes no sense. The best strategy would be a preemptive strike, while the world is still divided and unsure of what to do. Instead they assassinate one man, an action that has actively unified the world against Paradis. Something doesn't feel right about this.
Annie grimaced. In any case, it looks like we're going to have to go back to that island.
Her thoughts turned to Armin, and she was filled with dread at the idea of having to fight or even kill him.
What should I do?
Shaking her head, Annie made her way to HQ and headed for the meeting room to see what was going on.
Magath looked up as she entered the room. "Ah, there you are Annie. I was just starting to wonder if you were going to be late."
"Sorry." She muttered as she took her seat.
As she looked around the table, she recognized most of the people there. They included Bertolt, Pieck, Colt, Galliard, and several Marleyan officers she was familiar with.
But there were two people who she had not seen before.
Magath gestured at the two new arrivals. "As I'm sure you all have noticed, we have some guests. This is Ms. Tybur, she's the holder of the Warhammer Titan."
Ms. Tybur nodded curtly at the other shifters.
Annie's eyes widened. So, she's the one with the power of the Warhammer Titan. She must have been pretty upset about her brother's death, which explains why she's here.
Magath glanced at the other new arrival. "And this is Kenny. He's the leader of a secret squad I formed in order to counter the Survey Corp, the most dangerous military unit of Paradis."
Kenny nodded, an unsettling grin on his face.
Magath looked at them all seriously. "I'd hoped that we would have more time, but with this recent attack and the unfortunate death of Mr. Tybur, it's clear we have no choice but to move quickly in order to confront Paradis island. We do have some things working in our favor. For one, Mr. Tybur's death has outraged much of the world, and many nations that were initially hesitant have agreed to join our coalition against Paradis."
Kenny looked at Magath casually, while Annie studied his face carefully.
She froze. Wait a minute...that man...he's the same one as from back then…
She thought back to when she'd infiltrated one of the inner cities during her time as a cadet, and her heart began to beat faster.
He's from the walls. And the assassination of Willy Tybur to galvanize the world to action was incredibly convenient...too convenient. It must have been him. Magath and Kenny...they're all working together to frame Paradis.
Annie tried to keep her outward expression neutral, but internally her thoughts had become tumultuous, and she barely took in a word Magath was saying.
Shit...what should I do?
TWO MONTHS LATER
The military headquarters at Port Dina were bustling with activity as Paradis prepared itself for the imminent invasion. Most of the civilians had already been evacuated up north, while the Scouts and the Garrison were finalizing the city's defenses.
Erwin, Pixis, and Hange were in Erwin's office, looking over a map of the island that contained detailed information about the geography and environments of Paradis, as well as an outline of the four walls and the roads that connected them.
Pixis gently tapped his fingers against the table. "Our sources indicate that the invasion will happen in about two weeks. Most of the enemy forces will be coming over on ships, which should be easily dealt with using the Colossal Titans we have at our disposal. The only variable we really have to worry about is if they use airships as well. Airships would be able to avoid the Titans and strike directly at the city."
Hange nodded grimly. "Which is why it's important to make sure all our soldiers are ready even though we have the Founding Titan."
She turned toward Erwin. "Speaking of which, when is Eren arriving?"
Erwin stared out the window, his eyes on the front entrance of the city. "He and Levi's squad will be departing from Shiganshina district tomorrow morning, and should be here by tomorrow evening. Thanks to the volunteer soldiers and the Marleyan engineers we captured, we'll have trains running on the roads before long, but for the moment we're still dependent on horses."
He paused. "I'm also having Historia come here as well."
Pixis looked at him in surprise. "From Yeager district? But why? Zeke is already here."
Hange frowned. "You don't trust Zeke? I can understand being wary of him, but he's done a lot for us."
Erwin turned away from the window, trying to gather his thoughts.
"It is true that Zeke has helped us a great deal. He was incredibly useful when we were rebuilding the walls, and the information about the outside world he's provided us has been invaluable. And yet...something about him makes me uneasy. By his own admission he's an experienced liar and manipulator, since he was able to trick Marley for all those years. I can't help but wonder if he has a hidden agenda of his own."
Erwin shifted his gaze down to the map on the table. "And besides, even if my misgivings are incorrect, I think it would still be a good idea to have the Armored Titan here considering the invasion we're about to face."
Hange glanced at Pixis before returning her gaze to Erwin.
"Is that why you reassigned Levi's squad to Eren and are having Mike's squad looking after Zeke?"
"Yes. I know that Levi has become good friends with Zeke, and I'm afraid that could compromise his better judgement if Zeke were to do anything suspicious. Mike knows to be more careful."
Hange sighed. "Honestly, I think you're being a bit paranoid."
Pixis shrugged. "A little paranoia can save your life. And if his suspicions are wrong, there's no real harm done."
Pixis pointed at the map. "Now then, I have a question about the southwestern section of the wall…"
While the higher ups made their plans and discussed their strategies, the soldiers under their command carried out the orders they had been given and prepared the walled coastal city for the coming war.
On top of the wall countless soldiers carried supplies and moved the cannons to the proper places, trying to ignore the stress and fear they felt about the battle looming ahead of them.
Among these soldiers were two young scouts who were being much quieter than usual.
After setting down a crate, Sasha looked over at her partner.
"Connie? Are you...okay?"
Connie was silent for a moment, his face noticeably paler than normal.
Sasha looked out at the sea, observing the water receding into the distance as far as the eye could see. Normally such a view would have been beautiful, something that made her feel calm and at peace. But now, it had the opposite effect, as she knew what lay on the other side and would be coming over the horizon before long.
Connie leaned against a nearby cannon, his hands shaking slightly.
"I knew we would be fighting other humans eventually, but I always figured it would be further into the future, something we wouldn't have to face until many years later. I never expected…"
He trailed off, clearly distraught.
Sasha tried to give a reassuring smile. "Hey, we made it through Trost, where the odds were against us. And this time, the odds are in our favor. We'll be fine."
"Of course you will."
Sasha and Connie turned around to see a woman in her mid twenties walking toward them. She was not wearing a soldiers uniform, and was instead dressed in civilian clothing.
Sasha gasped. "Miss Dina! What are you doing here?"
Dina smiled softly. "Many of the soldiers here were among the Eldians Eren and the others returned to human form, and they remember me from when I helped them to resettle and start a new life here in the walls. So I've been walking among them to give them some words of encouragement, and so far it does seem to be helping."
She looked at them knowingly. "Though I'm sure they're not the only ones who need some reassurance."
Connie rubbed the back of his head. "Sorry."
Dina let out a small laugh. "It's okay to be nervous. I would be if I were in your shoes. Just don't let that fear consume you, okay? We have the Founding Titan, so we'll be fine."
Sasha nodded. "True. Eren and Mikasa will be here by tomorrow night."
Dina fiddled with her hair. "And...um...will Levi be with them?"
Connie let out a wolfish grin. "Why? Are you wanting to see him?"
Dina blushed, suddenly looking more like a bashful schoolgirl then the grown woman she was.
Sasha laughed and began teasing her some more.
While Dina felt rather embarrassed, she was glad that she had been able to make them feel better and take their minds off of the stress and worry that had been plaguing them, even if for only a few moments.
Mike could already tell that something was off.
For the past few months he and the other members of his squad had been guarding Zeke, both to protect him from would-be assassins, lest they lose the power of the Beast Titan, and also to keep an eye on him.
While having an armed escort wherever you went would be a nuisance for anyone, Zeke had been remarkably patient and understanding about it, and had gotten along well with the other squad members, many of whom he had known ever since he first arrived in the walls after the battle of Shiganshina. He'd even treated them to meals at expensive restaurants during holidays, or paid for expensive bottles of wine to celebrate someone's birthday.
Most of the squad, Thomas, Gelgar, Lynne, and Henning, had all come to like and trust Zeke, and Mike had to admit that he would have as well...if it hadn't been for Erwin's warning to him to keep an eye on Zeke.
The commander's instincts were rarely wrong, so if he thought something might be off with Zeke, Mike was inclined to believe him.
And something certainly seemed suspicious about him tonight. Instead of his usual routine, Zeke had decided to leave the walled city of Dina and investigate something at the port which had been temporarily abandoned because of the imminent invasion.
He refused to say what exactly he was investigating, nor why he needed to investigate it so late in the evening. Even the other members of his squad who liked Zeke clearly found his behavior odd.
Mike tried to remain calm. It was possible that maybe Zeke just wanted to tell them something outside of the city so that no one else would overhear them. And even if he was up to something underhanded, there were five of them, all armed with ODM gear, so even if he turned into a Titan they could easily take him down.
And yet the uneasy feeling that Mike felt still remained.
After walking through the empty streets of the abandoned port for about twenty minutes, Zeke abruptly stopped.
The scouts looked at each other uncertainly, while Mike stepped forward with a scowl.
"So, are you going to tell us what's going on, and what was so important it couldn't wait until morning?"
Zeke looked at him with an unreadable expression.
"I suppose I can. You see, I don't actually need to investigate anything here. I just needed to bring you to a place where no one would be able to see or hear me escape."
That put the scouts on edge, their fingers immediately resting on their blades.
Mike looked at him in confusion. "You want to escape? Why? And how do you expect to escape now that you've openly told us about your intentions?"
Zeke looked at him sadly. "Like this."
He inhaled, then screamed.
At once four explosions happened right behind Mike, sending him hurtling forward into the ground, his body immediately wracked with pain from the sudden impact with the hard street.
He coughed and got back to his feet as quickly as he could, and turned around. He froze in shock.
Where his squad had been standing mere seconds ago were four Titans, each with a vague resemblance to the human they once were.
Zeke looked at him with pity. "It's a shame you didn't drink the wine I had gotten for Lynne's birthday. It would have spared you from a painful death."
Zeke then stepped away as the four Titans gathered around Mike. Still utterly shocked from what had just happened, Mike wasn't able to regain his senses fast enough to fight back and was quickly overwhelmed.
Zeke looked away. "It's a pity."
As brutal as Mike's death was, it was at least swift, and a few minutes later the Titans stood before Zeke, awaiting further orders.
Zeke stepped onto one of their hands, wincing slightly from the heat.
"We have work to do."
With that, Zeke and the four Titans left the abandoned port and disappeared into a nearby forest, and began to make their way north as fast as they could.
The first rays of the sun were beginning to poke through the window, streaming onto the bed where two lovers lay asleep.
Mikasa was the first to open her eyes, and slowly sat up with a yawn.
She glanced at Eren, her eyes softening as she took in his sleeping form.
She gently nudged his shoulder. "Wake up Eren. Today's the day we leave for Port Dina, remember?"
Eren mumbled sleepily before slowly opening his eyes. A warm smile crept onto his face as his gaze fell upon his lovely wife.
"Did I oversleep?"
Mikasa ran her fingers through his hair, a smile also lighting up her face. "No, it's just time to get up."
He sat up and kissed her. She enjoyed the sensation of his lips against hers for a moment before pulling away, and the two began to get ready for the long journey ahead of them.
When they stepped out of the front door of their house, Levi and the rest of his squad were already waiting for them.
Levi scowled. "Tch. Thought we were going to have to barge in there and drag you two out."
Petra laughed. "Oh come on, captain, it's still early. We've got plenty of time."
Eren got onto a horse, as did the other members of the Levi squad, which consisted of Petra and Eld, the two veterans who remained loyal to Levi even after the massive changes that had happened within the walls, Mikasa, who wanted to do everything she could to make sure Eren stayed safe and had been skilled enough to ensure a spot with Levi's squad, and Varis, a talented younger soldier who had graduated at the top of his class and had been taken under Levi's wing after Zeke had shown a fondness for the young soldier.
The six scouts made their way down the main road of Shiganshina that lead to the outer gate. Mikasa looked around with a nostalgic smile. Despite everything that had happened, and all the major changes that had occurred, their hometown still looked mostly the same.
Mikasa fiddled with her scarf. If only Aunty Carla could be here to see this...
As she thought about her deceased adoptive mother, her thoughts inevitably turned to how Eren would soon join his mother in just five short years.
She pushed the thought away. He's here now, and that's what matters.
In an attempt to distract herself, she focused on the other scout's conversations.
Eld smiled at Petra happily. "My wife is expecting our second child. She thinks it will be another boy, but personally I'm hoping for a girl this time."
"That's wonderful news. I hope I can find love someday."
"I'm sure you will. You're young, you've got plenty of time."
Mikasa frowned, and decided to listen in on what Levi and Eren were saying instead.
"Erwin's having Historia moved to Port Dina for the invasion as well. Not really sure why, since Zeke is already there, and we only need one royal blooded Titan to activate the Founding Titan. But I'm sure he has his reasons."
"It'll be good to see my brother again, I haven't seen him in person since the wedding. I think he only has about two years left…"
Mikasa lowered her gaze, once again distraught by the reminder about the curse of Ymir.
She glanced at the remaining member of the squad who was being strangely quiet. His face was pale, and he looked like he was struggling to keep his breakfast down.
"You all right Varis?"
Varis jumped slightly, before swallowing. "J-just a bit nervous I guess."
Mikasa hummed in agreement. "Yeah. I suppose the idea of being invaded again is a bit nerve wracking, even if we do have the power of the Founding Titan this time."
Varis nodded before averting his gaze.
Before long the squad had made it to the outer gate, which was being manned by several members of the Garrison.
Hannes waved at them. "Hey, it's good to see you two lovebirds. About to head for the coast?"
Levi nodded curtly. "Yes, and we're in a bit of a hurry, so if you could open the gate."
Hannes laughed and rubbed the top of his head. "Sure thing, you guys are the first people of the day who will be leaving the city."
The Garrison got to work, and the gate slowly began to rise up.
"I heard your wife's pregnant. Congratulations!"
Eld smiled. "Thanks."
Hannes shifted his gaze back toward Eren and Mikasa. "I'm surprised you two haven't reached that stage yet."
His tone became teasing. "Though from the rumors I've heard, it's not from a lack of trying."
Mikasa and Eren blushed, while Petra, Eld, and the Garrison laughed. Levi's expression didn't waver.
Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed.
Varis pulled out a dart gun, and fired it into the side of Eren's neck.
Before Eren could even process what had just happened, he slumped forward, his mind drifting into unconsciousness.
Varis leaped from his horse, grabbed Eren, and fired his cables inside the gate, which was only about half way open. He zoomed through the opening, and before he disappeared through the other side he tossed a small bomb into the inside of the gate.
Tears gathered at the corners of Varis's eyes as he carried Eren away.
And before anyone could even begin to think about pursuing him, Varis's bomb exploded, unleashing a burst of flames that obstructed their path through the gate and injured the Garrison members who had the misfortune of standing too close.
Levi tugged on the reigns in an attempt to get his horse to settle down, his eyes wide in disbelief.
"What the hell?"
Petra gaped at the flames in astonishment. "He…"
"He took Eren." Mikasa whispered in shock.
Then, without warning, they were surrounded.
A dozen people equipped with advanced ODM gear soared into view above them, their guns trained on the stunned scouts and garrison members.
Their Ackerman instincts kicking in, Mikasa and Levi were both able to dive off of their horses and use their ODM gear to evade the deadly hail of gunfire.
The others were not so fortunate.
As Mikasa looked back, she saw everyone else who had been gathered near the gate shot down.
Petra fell to the ground with a look of surprise on her face, a massive hole in the middle of her forehead.
Eld had tried to evade the gunshots as well, but he hadn't been fast enough, and after two pierced his lower back he lost control of his ODM gear and crashed into the wall of a nearby building, killing him instantly.
Hannes had also fallen to the ground, a large hole in his chest, his face now permanently frozen in a look of fear and disbelief as he looked up at the sky with eyes that could no longer see.
The rest of the garrison had also been shot down, and lay collapsed in front of the gate.
Mikasa felt grief and rage swell up inside her, but she had no time to dwell on it, as she had to focus all her efforts on staying alive with the squad now pursuing her and Levi.
Civilians cried out in shock and alarm as the ODM gear users sped down the street, disrupting the peaceful day with the sounds of gunshots.
Her opponents were very skilled, but they were still no match for an Ackerman, and one by one she outmaneuvered them and cut them down.
After realizing there was at last nobody pursuing her, she began to search the city to try to find out what had happened with Levi.
It didn't take her long to find him.
Levi and a mysterious tall man were fighting along the roofs of the southwestern section of the city, both of them moving with inhuman speed and unnatural grace through the air.
Mikasa's eyes widened as she realized that Levi's face was filled with more rage than she had ever seen before in any human face. He was not just angry, he was livid, furious, every fiber of his being consumed with the desire to kill the person in front of him.
And yet evidently Levi's strength was still not enough to make that desire a reality, for the man he was fighting was laughing, and evading Levi's attacks with ease.
His laughing ceased when he noticed Mikasa approaching.
Kenny's smile faded. "Looks like those fucking idiots were worthless afterall. Oh well. As fun as it would be to fight you both, I'm afraid I've got somewhere I need to be. Toodles kids."
He then leaped off the building and began soaring toward the wall.
"You're not going anywhere!" Levi snarled.
Mikasa felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise at the sound of Levi's voice, before following Levi in an attempt to stop their enemy from fleeing.
But then Kenny tossed out another bomb, one much larger than the one Varis had thrown.
Mikasa's eyes widened as she saw it, and realizing that Levi was going to try to dash right past it instead of taking cover, she acted on instinct. She tackled Levi out of the air, and pulled him into a nearby building, crashing through a window and down a flight of stairs just before the bomb exploded.
The explosion severely damaged all the surrounding buildings, and sent rubble raining down into the streets and the lower floors. It also temporarily trapped Mikasa and Levi inside the building they had doven into.
Levi glared at her, his livid rage now aimed at her. "Why the fuck did you do that?!"
Mikasa flinched, but forced herself to answer. "If we had been out there when that thing exploded, we would be dead now."
Levi looked like he was about to yell at her before turning away and kicking a piece of debris out of anger.
Mikasa hesitated before speaking again. "Who was that?"
Levi froze, before the tension slowly drained out of his shoulders, his head drooping.
"...he was my mentor."
"...oh." Mikasa wasn't sure what to say to that.
"Why...why would he want to kidnap Eren?"
Levi slowly turned around, a pained expression on his face.
"He wouldn't. But the person he's taking orders from would."
Mikasa looked at him sharply. "What? He's following someone else's orders? Who?"
Levi let out a shaky breath, the memory of Kenny's taunts still fresh and raw in his mind.
"Zeke. He's betrayed us."
Mikasa felt her hand fall to her side, her insides suddenly feeling numb.
Levi gritted his teeth. "Apparently he's been loyal to Marley this whole time. And the entire reason why he's been helping us is so that he could earn our trust, all for the express purpose of taking away the Founding Titan as soon as Marley was ready to invade again."
Mikasa gasped, her face lighting up in horror. "But...that means…"
She grabbed Levi's shoulders. "We have to go after them!"
Levi nodded. "I know. But we can't just rush after them blindly. We need to replenish our supplies, and while we appear to have wiped out all the soldiers he brought with him for this ambush, we're going to need reinforcements if we're going to stand a chance against Kenny and Zeke."
Levi's face tightened at the last word.
"We also need to warn the others about this. The invasion isn't supposed to happen for another two weeks, but with Eren being taken away something tells me the enemy will be making their move sooner than we expected."
As they set about clearing away the debris so they could get out of the building, Mikasa and Levi both felt a cold anger filling them.
While Shiganshina district was still reeling from the unexpected attack, many kilometers south the inhabitants of Yeager district, the southernmost district of Wall Historia, were beginning to start their day.
Inside one of the houses two young shifters were getting ready for their journey to the coast.
Ymir scowled as she pulled on a shirt. "It's pretty rude of Erwin to just summon us with such little notice."
Historia shook her head slightly while tying her shoes. "He did let us know a few days in advance."
"That's still not very much." Ymir inspected herself in a nearby mirror, using a comb to try to fix her lingering bed head. "I mean, they've got Zeke already stationed there at Port Dina, why do they need you too?"
"I don't know. But we've been given orders, so we should follow them."
Historia lightly punched Ymir's shoulder. "Cheer up. We'll get to see the ocean again, so that'll be nice."
A short time later the two young ladies exited their house and found their escort squad waiting for them outside, with two spare horses ready for them.
Historia smiled at them. While there had been several offers from other squads to protect her, both from the MPs and the Garrison, she felt most comfortable with the one she already had. She'd known Jean, Marco, Marlowe, and Boris for years, and knew she could trust them.
Marco returned her smile. "Good morning ladies."
Ymir grunted as she got onto her horse. "The morning part I can get behind. Not so sure about the good part."
Marco's smile faded. "What, you didn't sleep well?"
"Sleeping is not the problem. Waking up...that's the problem."
Jean glanced at Historia before quickly looking away, not wanting to be accused of perving on her.
He still couldn't resist making one small comment. "Well, I'm sure waking up next to a beautiful girl must help at least a little."
A tiny smirk crept onto Ymir's face. "True."
Historia blushed while Ymir and Marco laughed.
Marlowe urged his horse to begin moving forward, and looked at them all seriously.
"We shouldn't chit chat too much, we have to stay on schedule."
Jean sighed, though he did urge his horse to begin moving forward as well. "Lighten up, will you? The invasion's not for a couple of weeks yet, we've got plenty of time."
"That's no reason to get complacent."
Marlowe turned around. "Right Boris? You agree with me right?"
Boris stiffened, and his eyes darted left and right as if hoping someone else would answer the question for him. When no one did, he croaked out a response.
Jean waved his hand absently. "Even he thinks you're being too serious, he's just too nice to say it."
While neither Jean nor Marlowe seemed to notice, Ymir couldn't help but sense that something was off with Boris. He was always the quietest member of the squad, but today he seemed much more anxious than normal.
But before she could comment on his odd behavior, they were distracted by a scout arriving in front of them.
Armin steered his horse toward them and raised his hand in greeting. "Hey!"
Jean looked mildly surprised. "Armin? What are you doing here?"
"I just came to see you off."
For the past few months Armin had been acting as a courier between Port Dina and District Yeager, passing along important messages for both the Scouts and the Garrison. While the discovery of technology from the outside world such as radios would eventually change how information was conveyed within the walls, it would take time before it became widespread, and so the role of messengers on horseback was still important.
Armin smiled at Ymir and Historia. "So, you're heading off to Port Dina, huh? I'll be joining you there soon. I'm going to meet up with Eren and the Levi squad when they arrive later today."
Marco nodded. "Be sure to say hi to Eren for us."
Ymir rolled her eyes. "Why? We'll be seeing him before long and can say hi to him ourselves."
"Boris? Are you okay?"
Marlowe's words caused everyone to turn their gaze upon the young MP.
Boris looked like he was going to be physically sick, and the six pairs of eyes staring at him only seemed to make him feel worse.
"Shit." He whispered. "Shit."
Then, as if trying to get it over with before he lost his nerve, he pulled out a dart gun and fired it at Historia.
His aim was off, but the dart managed to hit her wrist. The drug did its work quickly, and Historia slumped forward and fell off her horse.
Boris then tried to move toward the unconscious girl, but before he could Ymir cut him off, pulling her horse in front of him and extracting a knife from her sleeve.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?!"
Ymir's furious glare and angry yell seemed to freeze Boris. After a second or two, he seemed to snap out of his daze, fired a smoke signal into the air, and sped away using his ODM gear.
While Ymir kept her eyes fixed on Boris's retreating form, Jean jumped down from his horse and approached the girl on the ground.
"Historia! Are you okay?"
He pulled out the needle, and was relieved to see that she seemed to be breathing normally.
Marlowe looked back and forth between the unconscious Historia and the fleeing Boris, a look of utter disbelief on his face.
"Why on earth did he-"
Armin stiffened. "Everyone, get out of here now!"
They all looked at him in surprise.
"Just do it!" Armin yelled.
Jean pulled Historia onto his horse, and they all began to rush down the street, pushing their horses to go faster.
A few seconds later, an enemy squad appeared at the exact spot where Boris fired the smoke signal, and quickly gave chase after the fleeing soldiers using ODM gear.
Marco looked back at the unknown assailants in fear. "Who are they? What the hell is going on?"
Ymir looked at the enemy soldiers coldly.
"I don't know who these guys are, but if they're here to take Historia, they're going to have to go through me."
She leaped off of her horse, ran the knife across her palm, and transformed.
The light and explosion from her transformation caught the attention of people from all across the city, causing fear and dread to spread throughout the busy streets.
The Jaws Titan leaped onto a nearby building, climbed onto the roof, and leaped at the closest two enemy soldiers. Neither of them had the training or the experience to handle an intelligent Titan, and were slaughtered immediately, their bloody remains falling to the streets below.
A few seconds later, two more of the enemy soldiers also fell to her claws.
Ymir felt satisfied. Yes, I just have to keep this up. If they can't get past me, they can't get to Historia.
It was at that moment that two more enemy soldiers soared through the air just above her.
One of them, a man, yelled out an order to the other.
Ymir felt fear grip her.
A second later, a massive ball of light erupted around Annie's body, and the resulting explosion pushed against Ymir and slammed her Titan into a nearby building, temporarily dazing her.
The next second, the Female Titan stood in the middle of the street, only a few yards away from the Jaws Titan.
"That's it! Now we've got them!"
Seeing that Annie was dealing with Ymir, the rest of the squad sped past her, heading straight for Historia and the young soldiers who were trying to protect her.
Annie's gaze remained on Ymir's immobile Titan for a few seconds. This was after all the reason she had been assigned to this squad. With Kenny directly involved it was believed that Eren's kidnapping would be pulled off without any problems. When it came to Historia, though, she wasn't just being guarded by regular soldiers, she was also being protected by another shifter. So when it came time to kidnap her, the Female Titan would be on standby in case something went wrong.
And as it turned out, something had gone wrong. Boris had failed to finish his part of the operation properly, and so Ymir had transformed. But in the end that didn't matter. Annie knew she was stronger then Ymir, and all she needed to do was step forward and finish off the other female shifter.
Annie's gaze shifted toward the fleeing soldiers on horseback as they were surrounded by the squad that Kenny had spent months training up for this mission. And as she did, she spotted Armin among them.
For a brief instant, her eyes and Armin's eyes met.
Annie felt herself freeze at the look on his face.
There was no anger in that look, nor was there any hatred. There was only fear, and a great sadness, mixed with a tiny glimmer of...hope?
Annie forced herself to look away and return her gaze to Ymir. The Jaws Titan was beginning to stir. She needed to act quickly.
But why? Why was she doing this? Out of some misguided sense of duty?
And in that moment, three memories came rushing back to her in an instant.
Honorary Marleyan?! Chosen Warrior?! Marley, Eldia, they can all go to hell! They're all liars, every one of them! They only ever think about themselves! And I'm the same!
Armin, you are a good person. The fact that you can see the good in me when I can't see it myself any more…
Annie. I'm so sorry for putting you through this hell. It was my selfishness that led you to suffer. I can't ask for forgiveness, nor would I deserve it even if you could give it. But...know that I will always be by your side. And the one thing I want more than anything is for you to be happy. Even if that means throwing away the honor of being a Warrior, even if that means making an enemy of the whole world. Do what makes you happy.
Annie's gaze hardened, and before Ymir could get up, Annie made her move.
Marco looked fearfully over his shoulder as the enemy soldiers came into range.
The enemy squad leader grinned as he brought up his gun. "There she is!"
"Jean!" Marco yelled in fear. "What should we-"
The rest of his words were drowned out by a series of loud thuds that echoed throughout the street. The next second, the Female Titan was looming behind the enemy squad.
And before they could react, she killed them all.
She smashed them with her fists, grasped their wires and yanked them into the sides of buildings, and kicked their bodies skyward, until there was only the squad leader remaining.
"You bitch! Why?! Wh-"
Her foot came down, and he stopped speaking forever.
There was a moment of silence, where the Female Titan and the young soldiers just stared at each other. Then, the Female Titan slowly descended to the ground, and Annie emerged from the nape.
She slowly walked toward them, her eyes on the ground.
Jean, Marco, and Marlowe just looked stunned as she approached them.
Armin slipped off his horse and stepped forward, his voice quivering.
The unspoken question hung in the air.
Annie tried to look up at him but found she couldn't.
"I can't do this anymore. The bloodshed...the lies...I can't…"
Armin gently touched her arm.
Behind him the others also began to dismount from their horses.
After getting over his initial shock, Jean stepped forward.
"What the hell is going on?"
Annie winced, and forced herself to meet his gaze.
"Zeke betrayed you. He's been a double agent for Marley this entire time. The squad I was a part of was supposed to kidnap Historia, and as we speak there's another squad that's in the process of kidnapping Eren."
Armin gasped. "What?"
But before he could ask any further questions, they were interrupted by Ymir's arrival.
"You piece of shit!"
She had evidently exited her Titan form, and was dragging a struggling Boris toward them, while also repeatedly punching and kicking him.
As soon as she reached the group she hurled him to the ground as hard as she could.
"All right, you said that if I let you live you'd talk. So start talking!"
Boris cowered on the ground, his hands over his head.
"I'm sorry! I'm really, really sorry! I didn't...I didn't want to do it...but...Zeke forced me to."
Ymir scoffed, while Armin knelt down next to him.
"I...I drank some wine that was poisoned with his spinal fluid. If I don't do what he tells me to do...he'll turn me into a Titan!"
A stunned silence followed this revelation.
Marco stumbled back. "No way…"
Armin stood back up, his mind racing as he considered the implications of what Boris had revealed.
Ymir kicked Boris again. "Keep going."
Boris winced before cowering once more. "I'm sorry...I'll do whatever it takes to make up for it. I don't know where they were planning to take Eren and Historia, but I can tell you the rendezvous point we were supposed to head to after...after kidnapping Historia…"
Ymir and Jean began to interrogate Boris more thoroughly while Marlowe did his best to calm the unsettled civilians who had started to gather around and Marco kept an eye on Historia.
While this was going on, Armin shyly reached out and grasped Annie's hand.
She looked at him in surprise.
A tiny but warm smile was on his face.
And for the first time in years, Annie felt a smile emerging on her own face as she gently squeezed Armin's hand.
She wasn't sure what would happen next, but she was certain that she had done the right thing.
Author's Note: Once again, really sorry about the delay. Lots of stuff has been distracting in real life, but it's mostly just been writer's block and my own doubt and self loathing about my own writing. Nothing you would really be interested in.
So, this chapter featured a lot of betrayals. Magath betrayed Tybur, Zeke betrayed Paradis, Varis and Boris betrayed their comrades, and Annie betrayed Marley. And Kenny is just having a blast doing what he enjoys.
When it comes to Willy Tybur, I was always planning to kill him off, but how and why he was going to be killed off was drastically different in earlier versions of this chapter, with some of them being a bit too outlandish and/or too similar to what happened in the original manga. In the end I decided to have his death be somewhat similar to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a smaller scale event with larger repercussions. Only this time the person being killed is someone the world actually knows and cares about, and isn't just the catalyst that set off a messy chain reaction of stupid alliances that resulted in a bunch of larger nations fighting a war that was mostly pointless.
I know what I did to Mike was rather cruel, but when I thought of it and the ironic parallels with the canon, I just had to do it.
And yes, I know I'm a bit mean for killing off Petra and Eld, and Hannes, but I think it's important to show that despite all the positive changes Eren has managed to achieve, some people will still die before this is all over. And I killed off Petra partly to deviate from a common trope I've seen crop up a lot in Attack on Titan fanfiction. What am I talking about? Well, I think this line from Gigguk's Attack on Titan parody sums it up quite nicely:
Levi: Now that that's over, allow me to introduce my crew. Dead one, dead two, dead three, and Petra.
Petra: I'm the only one everyone cares about because I'm a cute girl.
I've read a lot of stories that feature some variation of the Female Titan arc, and in a lot of them they'll still kill off the Levi squad, but spare Petra. I've seen it happen so often it's kind of amazing. Even Not This Time, a story I really like, did the same thing. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I thought I would try something a little different. That's why I spared both Petra and Eld earlier in the story when Oluo and Gunther were killed, only to have them killed off now to reinforce how cruel the world of Attack on Titan can be.
As for Annie, her turning her back on Marley was something I was pretty much always planning on. As for Zeke, well, at the moment everything is going according to his plan, but whether it will stay that way only time will tell.
One thing I want to clarify, Kenny's squad consists of Eldians from Marley who Magath and Kenny secretly trained to be able to use the ODM gear. Now I know that ODM gear is something unique to Paradis, but I'm pretty sure that Marley's engineers could have come up with something that was close enough for them to practice with, and once they were on Paradis Zeke and Yelena would be able to get them actual ODM gear to use to carry out the attacks.
Anyways, be sure to let me know what you thought of the chapter. While I know my uploading schedule has not been very good, I can say that I will get the next chapter out before 2020 is over. Beyond that I won't make any promises.
Oh, and if you're up to date on the manga you might be interested in a oneshot I did that speculates about how Attack on Titan might end, more specifically what could happen if Eren loses. It's called Paradis's Future, let me know what you think.