Huh, apparently I left a punch of stuff this far along to tie fkashbacks in from the trainee years here, which I originally hoped to cover some of these back in the first 5 or 6 chapters lol and decided to throw it all the way over here and felt around here was the best place to conclude most of it off.
But welp, decided to scrape it altogether and drop it into the extras stuff file lol, which is way bigger than it ought to be but yeah might use that stuff elsewhere in the end but yeah… basically this chapter was meant to tidy up some things way back when now but given the time range I hope to cover, felt it really was too late for that stuff now, although this was the last chapter where I was imagining I could fit it in, but welp… that chance has passed now haha.
Sorry if there's stuff in the future that aren't quite explained from the absence of the flashbacks but yeah… just pretend they were here/happened lol.
Anyways, this chapter covers from August 852 to October 852, had hoped to make it to the winter/new year but yeah.
Damn though, 3 scenes left to complete and things are looking good for a more comfortable 15k word length, then 3k later and I'm wondering why I still bother lol.
' "speech" ' - thinking about someone else's words
Chapter 19 - Verschwörung
There was never any real change to the sky close to the source of Yggr's tree. The branches at the very end expanded daily at some point in the dark realm.
But although she had been to the corners and back many times already, there was no real change to how the sky looked here.
There was no end to the dark realm, even at the borders of where the branches extended, there was nothing to be seen however far the tree of light extended out.
"Great saintess Christa," the shadow of the old noble lord and warrior bowed to her deeply.
"What is it, subject B-6?" The woman didn't bother looking his way. "The Founder Ymir seems to busy so I have to move on my own right now. If you would hurry."
"Well, it's…" The shadow vaguely pointed in a direction.
"What…?" The girl looked to where he was pointing, straight up into the sky.
The silver light which was splitting the darkness was now pulsating.
"The next generation's Subject F-154-A-169… he is not subjugated by the will -" The shadow coughed and dissipated when some of the ash was kicked from the floor onto him.
"Have I not discussed this with you in passing?" The foretold saintess picked up some of the dust in her hand before letting it slip through her fingers, back down to the ground.
"Y-Yes, I beg my forgiveness, it's not that…" The shadow fought back as he felt himself being sucked backwards into the dark. "But we have lost contact entirely to Subject F-154-A-169, or rather… there appears to be someone interfering with Yggr's tree…"
"…" She frowned before shaking if off. "It is a trifling matter, that individual has no way to affect Yggr's tree nor sway the Founder here. None of you do."
"… Yes, it is as you say, your eminence." The shadow bowed again and turned to slip away again.
"Stop." She ordered. "How long did it take you to notify me of this?"
"That… was perhaps over a year since my predecessor had -"
"A year?" She sighed with contempt, "it took that much time, and it was your predecessor to notice? Perhaps he should have been the on to lay out the foundations of scholarship and be honoured with the divine research of the Eldian empire. It seems your reputation falls short to the accomplishments of your successors."
"No, that's not…" The shadow of the once worshipped memory bit his teeth. "We are unable to alter the passage of time here without our Founder and Bilröst's bridge is unusable -"
"Then go find a way to fix it. Inform subjects B-37 through to B-45 to hurry." She ordered, waving him away. "No matter how freely you may use your time here, it still continues to pass for as long as the Founder is not called upon."
The memory bowed and was swept away into the unnavigable shadows.
If you tried following the route to a certain destination, keeping your eyes fixed on a certain branch of Yggr's tree, you would only find yourself back where you started.
Like an illusion tempting you to follow the only evident feature in the wastelands, it would never let you reach anywhere by foot.
The memory of Christa Fritz closed off her senses and began heading down through the ashland once more. Her feet brushed the ash as she tried to remember the route after being here so long.
In a world of memories wandering without knowing how to reach another, the once worshipped saintess confidently pressed on.
She was just a copy of a long deceased individual, likewise stuck here for eternity, unable to change anything without the current holder of the Founding Titan or Ymir herself.
But unlike the others who had settled down into the ash, the memory of the girl never stopped pursuing what she had lived for.
Mid Summer of the Year 852 - Capital Mithras
He had practically come rushing through the door this time. Without warning or any prior words, Historia had gotten crushed in his deep embrace that sent them both falling on the floor in her room. She had to kick him a few times before he got off her and even then he refused to let her go.
Her foul mood since their last meeting had become dry and just a little annoyed from his sudden attack.
The way he held her… did make her happy but it was also nauseating. It reminded her that they really did have a problem. Less than a fight, more of a dispute, but a clear couple's spat nonetheless.
"I've been thinking the whole time about what I said…" Eren sat down gently next to her, his soft green eyes open to her view. "I'm sorry. I never meant to accuse you of anything but…"
"Don't worry, it's not like I would hold it against you. Besides, I wasn't in a comfortable mind either." Historia patted the bed closer to her and Eren scooted closer to her instantly before she smiled sadly at him. "But it also seems that you haven't change your mind."
"Yeah… Even now I can't agree with this. If we play along then it means conceding to whatever conflict of intentions there will come and restricting your own life." The brunet touched and caressed over her hand.
"Not necessarily. It just matters how we act before… them. It may seem like an impediment but we can prepare beforehand." She countered before stretching out her fingers into his and squeezing tightly, "but… it's a risk you don't want to take, but one I'm prepared for."
"…" Entangling his hand once more, he brushed his shoulders against her, bringing his face to her hair and temples, stroking over gently and dearly. "No I don't. I don't want. But it's done. There's no way to change anything now so I'll do it and play along with this shitty mess."
"Mhm…" Her hand stroked over the left side of his chest over and over again. "… Thank you. Don't worry, I agreed to this because I want to help you."
"… There's more," he breathed in, feeling some hidden tensions unknown within him release, "that I should apologise for…"
Why hadn't it ever come up sooner?
Just since it was obvious, it didn't mean it couldn't be said.
It was something he felt he should have said… a long time ago.
"I'm sorry… for how rude I'd have been to you in the past…" He didn't know why the thought came now. Of her life under Krista Lenz. "Like… how rude I was to you back on that tower… that time after you were captured by those thieves. The whole time we did that week long run, that time when those bastards tried to torment you, and the whole time during training when I was ridiculing you -"
A light slap clapped on his chest. It wasn't really a slap so much as a palm being pressed onto his chest like a gentle cushion accompanied by a muffled noise that made Eren's previous anxiety make him feel stupid.
Historia was snickering before breaking out into a complete laugh. "That… was 4 years ago. You're bothering to apologise for that now?!"
"… Yeah," Eren dully replied. "Better late than never?"
"Never is fine too," she was openly laughing at him now. "Honestly, why would I be troubled about you being rude to-"
"You wouldn't, but I wanted to apologise," he grumbled with ease, "forget I said that then."
"Honestly, there's nothing which I need to forgive you for back then," she laughed gently after standing up. "Still… right now, it is a problem."
Eren tilted his head before nodding. "Wanting different things?"
"Yep, honestly…" She shook her head whilst struggling. "Even though me and you can see where we're coming from, when it comes to wanting different things, there's nothing you can do…"
The office air felt clean and cool, the soothing wind providing a refreshing atmosphere from the heat he had been exposed to at the south of the island until yesterday.
'I guess this is a relationship struggle?' He had never given much thought to stuff like that. He had not given much thought to relationships in general but had heard the so-called couple's drama and gossip which would be spoken off light-heartedly and also in serious affairs.
His head was not particularly filled with romance either. At least he did not think so.
Looking over Historia who wondered around to her desk whilst flashing him hinting looks, his thoughts were the same as always, however simple they might be, he couldn't change the way they were.
Whenever he looked at her, he simply got the urge to touch her, hold her and kiss her.
The Titan shifter's thoughts were filled with her and he thought of her romantically of course but his feelings were just simple.
It didn't matter what they could have been, there was no stopping his desires in wanting to be by her side, to just be able to speak to her and to have a future with her.
As such, he had never considered what a romantic couple's relationship was really like. He had only ever thought of his bond with her.
Smiling a bit bitterly, he leaned into her whilst lifting her up to sit on the desk, reaching out to her lips as she looped her hands over his back.
"Yeah, I don't really know what exactly you're supposed to do when you disagree on things…" Eren shrugged after pulling away from the wet embrace.
"I don't think there's anything you can do…" Historia then thought of something. "Hey, speaking of which, how about we take a green carpet to our place next time?"
"Huh? Oh…" He wondered for a while what it might look like, at the doorsteps of their chalet far off from the capital. "No way, like I said last time, blue would be a much better colour."
"I want green…"
"… I want blue?"
"That colour would just be boring. You can see it in the sky's colour every day." The blue-eyed woman pointed out the window to the sky.
"Green's boring. It's literally the colour of everything that's not the sky." The green-eyed man pointed to the other window, over to the palace gardens.
"Shut up and do as I say." Historia smirked with a dark smile, "I'm the one with the fashion sense here so I'll be the one to decide."
"Like hell you are, you're still wearing…" Eren pointed a finger over her clothes to her styled hairpin and mini-dress, trying to find anything that he didn't like. "No. That doesn't mean I'm going to let you choose everything like that from now on."
With a snigger from the Queen, Eren loosened up as well with a chuckle before she confessed. "I'm really alright with blue. Although it is quite expensive."
"Yeah, I was joking about green colours, but I do still think blue is better," Eren smiled before sighing. "Well, that's a harmless thing to disagree on."
"Of course, but still… there's nothing you can do about it." She pointed out, sliding down and pulling him by the arm towards the window. "I guess even for us, there's stuff we won't agree on. And that's just how couples go."
The city lay beyond the glass frame, busy with the midday activity around the lunch time. The capital of the walled world and now of the island Paradis.
In the centre of three walls, and the larger expanse of the mapped island, the land of Eldians hated by the world.
"I guess I've compromised this time though…" Eren recalled Armin's words for a moment before squeezing her hand again. He clucked his tongue. "If only I could have seen this… why couldn't I."
"It just means even with the Attack Titan's power, seeing the future is not that convenient," Historia spoke, reassuring him that it's not his fault. "There might just be a reason for it but… do not rely on it."
The warning resonated within him.
His weak reflection could still be made out partially in the glass window.
Had he been over-complacent with it?
Or just become convinced that he would not be able to change whatever he saw happening.
Either way, he could not honestly tell himself that he had been proactive in thinking of the future for the past year ever since he saw the ocean himself.
He wished he could enjoy it longer, even more deeply.
The time he had now with Historia. 'If only it could stop and last for half a lifetime longer...'
Facing the future again.
He did not know since when it had become a burden, weighing on him and being something so difficult to do.
The responding pressured from Historia's strong hands brought him back again.
Looking past the reflecting image and out through the window.
"You're right… I won't do that from now on." He vowed to her and to himself. "It's you who I'll always rely on."
She lit up with a smile before coughing and scratching her cheek to hide her face. "So… let's start… with 'them'."
"Who would you refer to as 'them', here?" She asked.
"Everyone." Eren said without thinking before continuing. "-That gets in our way. No, well… just those that could try to take advantage or has their own plans."
"… What about Armin and Mikasa?"
"… No, they are…" Eren hesitated again, shaking his thoughts away. "I… well I don't know if someday… they might… I might have to face against them too. But even if everyone in the Survey Corps becomes an obstacle, they aren't the ones I'm worried about. At least when it comes to you, they wouldn't interfere with anything. They can't really as they are now. Aside from…"
"Commander Hanji…" she stated. "Do you think she will be stand against you someday?"
"… Maybe. Maybe not directly, but… she's the one who will make the call that will decide where the Survey Corps will stand. But more importantly, as the commander and a long time veteran, whatever she reports affects the leadership of Paradis." The military government. This time, the answer had been left in Historia's hands as the titled Queen, however the greater proceedings of Paradis lay in the power of the council. Hanji was just a part of it but still a key figure in it. "Captain Levi as well… he may listen to Hanji but when it comes to the Beast Titan… I'm not certain if he will agree to let Zeke live."
"I don't think any in the council would allow Zeke to live if they could help it. Darius Zackley may be the commander-in-chief but… I have the impression that he does not hold much interest in ruling." Historia commented.
"How come?" He agreed with her from what he had seen of the man that was a rather fair judge from what he had experienced. But it really was odd. For someone that effectively held the greatest authority over this island to not appear to use it for self-interest. "I guess it's a good thing he isn't self-serving, b-"
"You can cut that thought," Historia pressed a hand to her head, shaking herself thoroughly.
"Huh? He is then?" Eren pursued his lips together in uncertainty.
"Yeah… you could say that. He may not take advantage of his position but… he has his own fetishes." Her eyes cleared up as she brought a thoughtful hand to her lips. "Well I guess I can understand the fun in bringing arrogant pigs to face reality, however… his methods are questionable. Just try not to begin a talk with him about it or he'll show-off his captives."
"Right…" Eren flinched in concern. He had heard the rumour once when Hanji had a slip of the tongue. He couldn't say whether the old nobility had deserved it but he wasn't particularly obliged to interfere. "Maybe you should introduce some of your attempting suitors to him?"
"Ah, I already have, the commander-in-chief has already managed to deal with a number." she nodded happily before then turning grim again. "But well… he has rather specific interests in men. Can't complain for his peculiar tastes when he's taken away most of the worst batch of them, aside from that bothering marquis."
Hearing her say the last part under her breath, his other hand gripped tightly without saying anything. He kept the note in his mind for future matters.
"Anyway," she patted herself clean of the subject, "Darius Zackley makes unbiased decisions, often on a majority vote from the council, and when they are being their useless arguing selves, he makes the sensible calls. He may be Paradis's leader but he's not someone that is invested in the island's future so long as he can continue his own private interests. Even so… he will become an enemy we may have to get rid off, right?"
"Yeah… I'm sure the military will come up with their own plan. Kinda difficult to pick any one of them out when they could all become a problem." Turning his back to the window, he leaned against the wall. "I've thought of it a lot as well… but I don't believe this can be all what Zeke is planning."
"Same here… whilst the plan he passed through Kiyomi has some ground, it is just too far-fetched to think that he would give up his power for the sake of this island's future. Even if it were true, the military government won't believe it and will plan to capture him… that's what you've come to as well." She shrugged, copying his posture. The blonde Queen wished she could have a better sense on such things despite being a part of the centre, there was no definitive decision that had been made yet,
But… between themselves, simply talking about it, they could connect simple, certain factors into a rough image of how things may turn out.
"Yeah, there's no way the military would entrust anything to him after what's happened," his eyes narrowed when thinking back to the start. "The thing is, the Volunteers are trying to foster that kind of relationship with us, but… I'm sure that Yelena wishes to speak to me about what's really going on."
It clicked to him. Ever since they met, he had the impression that the tall woman had some different intent in wishing to speak to the brother of her saviour. "That's what I have to do right now. If I can speak to her, away from the Survey Corps then maybe I can find out… what Zeke really intends to do."
Historia pushed herself off the ground and reached out a hand to him. The room was warm and the breezy wind felt refreshing.
The Titan shifter reached out and felt the blonde pull him up on his feet in an instant. The strength surprised him a little.
"And after that?" She gave him a small smile, brightened by the rays of light which filled the room.
"… Well, I'll decide whether to slug him later for putting you at risk," he answered honestly. He really did feel the need to hit someone at least.
What had been done could not be undone.
But he still felt a little retribution was required.
"What if it was necessary in order to buy both Kiyomi and Paradis in?" She twirled his hand a little within hers, beginning a slow, gentle twirl between them both.
"Then he should have thought twice before pulling you into it like this," he followed around her, taking her into a step by step spin.
"And I was willing to accept that risk if empty words were all it took for you to have a way to use the Founding Titan." She kept pulling him along with determined eyes. "I'm going to help you."
"…" Eren nodded slowly.
"I will help you." Historia made her declaration with an assertive grin.
"Yeah, I know you will…" He mimicked her, feeling his heart ease up. 'And I will keep you safe.'
"We both will…" She snugly pressed herself into his chest, feeling their legs continue to walk around each other.
The Titan shifter cupped the young woman's face pressing his lips deeply into hers.
The two co-conspirators began their preparations for the future with easy pacing beats.
Late Summer of the Year 852 – Brunaverg Islands near the new continent of Vestgotland
The Mid-East Alliance had drawn the war far away from their shores and captured island after island away from Marley which served as the spearhead of their colonies.
The two largest landmasses which covered the world were split on one side by what was still called the 'Aegir' and then on the other with an even larger expanse called the 'Ran'.
It was a rather disputed issue when it came to the names of the two largest oceans. In ancient times, amongst a legend of the seven seas, the entire ocean around the continent was referred to simply be 'of Marleys' itself.
The old tale went that Marley had sailed across both coasts on either side of the Midgermania continent and themselves hailed from beyond it. According to the records of the Eldian empire, the oceans themselves were once simply attributed to 'Marley' as well.
Then at some point, an individual during the years of the Eldian empire had renamed it to just 'the Aegir'. After a whole other continent had been discovered beyond the islands to the far West, the New World of Vestgotland.
Vestgotland had been a home to numerous native tribes, the ones who had survived continued to defy Marley's rule to this day. The entire new continent had become a home to diverse groups that originated from the other continent, brought here after enslavement by the Eldian empire.
Once the global empire had collapsed, the entirety of Vestgotland had formed small, independent kingdoms in the developed colonies which Marley had tried to regain. Although it had taken a long time, the Marleyian empire had gradually been able to gain hold of the defiant territories in the past century and wandering tribes of untouched lands.
The kingdoms of Vestgotland had their own complicated alliance between their own disputes but the majority had joined hands with the Mid-East Alliance that had supplied them weapons and ammunitions which led to widespread rebellion and raids along the valuable plantations and entire economy of Marley.
The Mid-East Alliance had also been quick to move to seize the forefront islands near the centre of Vestgotland, a region known as the Brunaverg belt, a group of a dozen large tropical islands and a hundred of smaller beaches where it was said that the Eldian empire had discovered first on their conquest of the New World.
It had been due to the strong currents across the Aegir that the Eldian empire landed in the tropical region and established the islands as their base of operations.
They continued into Marley's time to be the vital way and fastest route between Marley's home continent and it's colonies. So long as the Mid-East Alliance kept a hold of these islands, Marley's entire power would be weakened.
It had forced the 12 legions in Vestgotland into a perilous situation when supplies from the Old World had been cut off, locking a quarter of Marley's entire army aside to deal with ambushes on a continental scale.
At the same time, the resources from the colonies were being exported further south through to the Mid-East Alliance and other supporting nations.
It had been an essential move in a war against Marley.
On the other side of Vestgotland, the trade routes were likewise becoming pressured from the longer distance across the immense ocean. The 'Ran', now more referred to as the 'ocean to Hizuru', was prone to many storms and was a dangerous land to try to navigate with only remote tiny islands to restock between that could easily be missed.
Marley's navy was desperate to make up for the loss and regain the pride to it's name. A nation whose roots lay from the sea where it's fleets had once sailed.
For the past century, after wrestling power back from the Eldian empire, it had made a statement in it's name and wished to express it's ancient naval superiority. For that reason to, they had denounced the Eldian names of the oceans Aegir and Ran, and wished to return to calling the seas around the Midgermania continent and Vestgotland as the Marleyian ocean, and the farther oriental seas as the ocean to Hizuru.
Since it just made it more difficult to explain which ocean someone was talking about, the centuries used names for the Aegir and the Ran had stuck.
Overall, Marley had been rather thorough in overwriting Eldian names and renaming conquered lands, but the old Eldian titles had stuck to the two great oceans of the world.
"Sure don't help when the navy sucks ass!" Or so that was what an Eldian sailor had told the Titan shifter during the week long voyage over the Marleyian ocean.
Marley's pride had been their undoing as expected.
Reiner fastened his baggage together whilst holding the ship's rail when the island finally came into sight.
The warm, sticky atmosphere had caused his clothes to stick a little, making him eager to jump into the water already.
Someone was looking at him, trying to speak words that could not reach his ears.
Under the continuous barrage of shells that were being unleashed from the newly assembled Marleyian fleet, it was impossible to even make out the words from a few metres away.
The crew kept yelling that they had reloaded and were firing at will without stopping.
"WE – THIS, - TO US!" The Marleyian officer brushed past him and had been trying to relay something to the commanding crew that were behind him.
Smoke was spreading around the deck, pouring out of any gap around the turrets.
On and on it went.
Reiner watched over the island, too far to make out without any binoculars, as the enemy forces rushed around the beaches and collapsing buildings.
On the major island of the group, the fort had been badly damaged but had began responding with counter missiles as well, all of which fell just a bit too short of the ships.
A few ships had managed to lift out of the harbour but the navy had successfully taken out a large battleship and a couple dreadnought class before the remainder had become stuck in the harbour. A few had escaped prior to the battle, moving to regroup elsewhere for another battle.
But that was a battle between navies at sea.
"We're ready for you devil. Get out there and don't leave us blind -" With the given permission, the blond man hopped over the rail and jumped straight into the open ocean below. Reiner didn't need to be told twice.
He knew the mission. It was simply an all out invasion to retake the Brunaverg islands.
One by one.
The captain yelled and gave the signal to stop firing.
After nearly 6 hours of continuous bombardments, the Marleyian fleet had deposited tonnes of explosive upon the Brunaverg islands.
"Now, LAUNCH!" The men called over to the larger carrier ships, hidden behind the dreadnoughts. The gates opened as smaller trooper boats began to launch one after another in droves, each carrying between 50 to 70 men each.
In a matter of minutes, the sea was filled with 150 rowboats from across the carrier vessels and warships.
The men yelled instructions to each other and at the Eldian volunteers who were tasked in rowing the boats against the waves. Pushing on against the tide, the closer they got to the fort, the more likely they would be wiped out by a chance artillery strike.
And just as expected, three rowboats were smashed out of the water out of nowhere.
Cries yelled out from the scattered bodies that splattered on the nearby boats, corpses half missing.
"GEEE! HURRY!" The panic broke out. The Eldian sailors were spat at to row faster before some of the Marleyians began baring whips at them.
"HELP! LET ME ON!" The surviving soldiers swam like crazy to the other ships, trying to hang onto the overcrowded boats that had no room for them. "WAIT!"
"STAY AWAY!" In response, their Marleyian comrades who had served in the longtime legion along with them, struck their heads with the butts of their guns, threatening to break their fingers. "YOU BASTARDS WILL SINK US ALL!"
Without any room to fight back whilst struggling to stay afloat under the weight of their equipment, some tried to swim back to the fleet whilst others drowned, driven under by the rowboats which came after them.
The strikes came again from the fort cannons and another two boats were lost. Many of the rest of their legion were still on the battleships, fortunate enough to be not be chosen for the first landing.
"H-HEY! WHY'S IT TURNING TO FACE US!?" A soldier called out from the convoy, pointing to one of the ships left in the harbour. It was smoking from an artillery strike but indeed turning it's guns upon the longboats instead of the larger fleet. "SHIT! THE NAVY IS USELESS!"
The shells began to rain down from two sides now, causing a third of the rowboats to sink or collapse before long, leaving the bay filled with floating corpses and survivors who were now trying to swim for the shore.
"Damn it, damn it…" The remaining seated soldiers were in closer proximity of the shore now. And within easier range of the fort and ship now too. "W-Why… why are we on the first landing…"
A creaking sound drew their attention again. The ship was turning direction again now, suddenly picking up speed as it aimed itself straight towards the rowboats.
"THEY'RE GOING TO RAM US!" The shriek caused all the ships to stop rowing, now in direct lines of sight from the metal hull.
The Mid-East Alliance's ship was badly damaged but still functional. Their own navy were not firing any supportive artillery.
There was no escape from the accelerating warship.
Some began jumping into the ocean and making the swim themselves for the rest of the way, whilst others braced themselves, hoping to just be swept aside by the ships.
Gunfire began to break down upon the Marleyian soldiers, sitting ducks beneath the close ship. Some of the Marleyians returned fire in desperation up at the looming ship before it all came to an end.
But as the ship neared the first of the rowboats, it instantly came to a halt. All the survivors and awaiting soldiers on the ships watched as the warship was raised out of the bay, into the air.
The Armoured Titan roared as he twisted it's titanic body, holding the ends of the enemy ship which caused to begin to split in the middle.
With a powerful turn that caused the rowboats to be pushed back in waves, the warship went flying above them all, breaking of completely in the air into two metal pieces that smashed into the fort.
Seconds after an immense explosion followed, crumbling the fort entirely as the coast cliff crashed into the water, bringing down the other towers and buildings constructed along it beneath the waves.
Reiner turned aside, focusing on the short, pushing himself through the water.
The surviving Mid-East Alliance forces had now regrouped on the beach and brought their available machine guns and mortars to the front, desperate to hold the beach.
The armoured giant approached them through the shallows, raising out as he charged straight at them. A few guns went off, bouncing off the Titan's plates before the line broke and they all fled away.
Reiner smashed them aside before scanning the town. The navy's artillery strike had been powerful and destroyed of much of it's forefront infrastructure which Marley had invested into.
The island had been garrisoned with a much smaller force who quickly scattered across the island which still had much of it's small jungle remaining.
Burrowing through the trees, he quickly crossed onto a hill which gave him the view of the other side of the island.
The small patch of land was maybe 10km across at this point, although it's length did go on for 300km in it's approximate length. This had simply been the main port along it.
On the other side, a small landing could be seen with two remaining ships from the Mid-East Alliance were the survivors were quickly trying to board and escape from.
Just as the intel said, his job was to cross to the other side of the island and destroy any other ship to strand the enemy soldiers on the island.
Since Marley could not afford to split it's fleet and take the time to go around both sides of the island, it was only easier for him to quickly cross the islands' width and prevent any escaping ships.
'Wait…' Reiner frowned, 'they're leaving already?'
One of the two ships was quickly leaving the port, abandoning the soldiers still at the small dock who quickly rushed to the last ship.
Looking over the islands top, some of the Mid-East Alliance's men even gazed up in fear as they rushed close past his feet, desperate to stay on the island path than risk getting lost in it's forest.
The blond shifter looked back on the last ship which began piling smoke to leave in a hurry. Perhaps they had spotted the Titan on the hill and knew it would be too late if they delayed.
He wouldn't make it even if he charged down now.
Turning back around, he saw that the first landing troops were storming the beach, sweeping around to capture anyone escaping from the fort and moving to take control of the major dockyard.
Fierce fighting had broken out from resistances within the old port town and the remaining rowboats were being pulled back out to the Marleyian fleet to bring in the next wave of troops.
Taking a glance back at the last enemy ship, now abandoning the rest of it's soldiers, he made his decision.
He wound inform Marley that no other ships were left from the other side. The enemy soldiers would be left with whatever remaining time to find a way to survive for themselves.
'… No.' Reiner corrected himself and stopped his thoughts.
They had been abandoned.
On a distant island, far from home, their means of escape were cut off. The attacking soldiers abandoned in the red water and the defending soldiers abandoned in a distant island.
Whether the battle was lost or not, didn't change that.
Abandoned by their comrades to face whatever fate was left for them.
The Armoured Titan stood on the island hill, alone in a distant land.
He had been the one to abandon his own friends first.
Each time running away from it.
Late Summer of the Year 852 – Wall Rose Region
"Shh." The assigned team leader motioned back to the pair behind him who all listened in carefully while keeping still on the large tree branch.
A quiet zip sound followed by an expulsion of air travelled through the wind. Rotating slowly around, they spotted a flash of silver at last. "On my mark."
Breathing in softly, his finger gripped the trigger as he stepped off the tree, holding the gun clutches within his ODM gear. "Go!"
Quickly firing it off, the wire shot out from the same direction which his gun was pointed, pulling him into a fast, low swinging arc from where it had pierced into the bark.
Rushing through the trees, Jean pulled into the swing with his two teammates in tow, catching the sounds of operating wires right below the canopy of tree leaves. He dived through and let the gravity take him speedily down, his eyes locking upon the target who happened to be Connie.
The bald boy hadn't noticed him yet, busy in trying to get a handle on the best way to hold the new design of the weaponry.
Just like the way which the central MPs had fought against them, these were guns designed to kill humans. The anchor of the ODM gear had been positioned differently but it was still only possible to point the gun in one direction.
Whilst keeping one anchor still in the tree above, Jean made his fast descent with the single wire causing him to swing down before he released a bit more gas to keep him in position.
"Huh?" Connie was now about 20 metres below him and now noticed his fellow Survey Corps member descending down with his gun aimed at his face. "Wait, giv-!"
"Sorry Connie!" He yelled, taking his shot. He had tried to aim for the bald boy's foot rather than his face.
Emitted straight down, the projectile missed both slightly but hammered into Connie's thigh, causing him to scream from the impact and fall onto the floor. "DAMN YOU HORSE BITCHIN' RAT OF A-"
Jean landed nearby with a growl as the screams died down whilst Connie rolled on the floor, hugging his leg to his chest. "Hey, hey, stop being a baby. That was just a rubber bullet. Need me to get Hanji to have a look?"
"IT FRICKING HURT! WAY MORE THAN EXPECTED!" He continued yelling before gathering the gun back in his hand and rolling over, quickly taking aim into Jean's torso who jumped back in shock, gathering it with his arm.
There was only three or four metres between them, the first shot hitting Jean straight into the arm caused the sound to travel just as he too fell onto the floor with an even louder scream. "WHAT THE HELL?! THAT'S AGAINST THE RULES YOU LITTLE BASTARD!"
Connie had quickly followed up with a second shot, or rather he had not been certain if he had pressed the trigger down properly and so fired twice in the short amount of time.
The second had struck Jean straight into the gut, causing him to roll around in agony as he felt his stomach about to empty.
A few minutes after, the two recruits which were assigned to Jean landed behind their leader, seeing the two surviving Survey Corps members of 2 years ago.
"Hey Jean, you could at least apologize," one of their junior's suggested and kept watching them strangle.
"FINE! I'M SORRY! NOW GET OFF ME YOU BASTARD!" The ash haired leader began elbowing the bald boy off him before staggering upwards, "and you guys! Don't let your guard down! If Connie's here, then that means -"
"You're too late," the cool voice stated from behind him, descending out of nowhere.
"R-Right, figures," Jean raised his hands into the air and leaning on his knees.
"Ah!" The two recruits blinked and missed the arrival of the Ackerman, quickly rearing their guns to the black haired woman.
Mikasa easily crossed her hands, the pistols hitting their mark in the metal breastplate, knocking the two recruits onto their backs simultaneously.
"Not even a chance huh," Jean sighed feeling Mikasa lower her guns after tapping him on the head with one of the barrels, "guess there's no way we could beat you even with these Mikasa."
"…" The ravenette checked on Connie who had sat up and was glaring in annoyance at Jean. "I don't think we'll ever face an enemy this fast."
"Let's hope not…" The bald boy muttered, "by the way, isn't Sasha on your team too Jean? Where has she gone?"
"Hn, don't ask me what the hell she's doing, probably still raiding Hanji's supplies," Jean snapped back, "I swear that girl…"
"It's a good decision to slow down Hanji's team early," Mikasa spoke in the huntress's favour.
"Yeah well, I guess we can count on her to do that at least," Jean stood up again and examined all along his gear, "still I must say… Hizuru was able to provide us with these fast. Too fast."
Mikasa and Connie looked to him, examining along their own gear as well.
When Hizuru had send a small trading vessel, the second to land on the island just a few days ago, they had come bearing the new technology as a gift.
The fruit of their combined power as the ambassador had called it in the letter.
The ODM gear designed for killing humans, their enemy beyond the walls now. Just like the gear used by the central military police, the handles had been adapted into modern weaponry instead of swords. The gas canisters had also been adapted for lighter, higher propulsion and the blade sheaths had been removed.
To the experienced scouts, they had noticed the release of pressure from the hips and side which made it harder to balance. However the anchor ejectors had also been moved to their hands. From there, the movement and form in which they travelled through the air had to be adapted.
Although it shared the same weakness the central military police had, that being their shotguns could only fire in the same directions as they were pointed, the guns used were far more advanced.
They likewise needed reloading but Hizuru had supplied a range of different styles, but all of which had the ability for multiple fire. The ammunition came in various streamlined shapes and sizes, different from the sphere bullets that had always thought of.
"You think that Hizuru were planning to give us this from the start?" Mikasa questioned with a concerned look.
"Maybe, unless they can develop this kind of stuff in less than a month." Jean answered with a shrug, reloading his own weapons with a little difficulty, "Hanji sure was ecstatic they were able to do this when she had only spoken briefly to the ambassador about this in the first meeting. It's still stiff around the places but maybe we just need to get used to it. The armour could definitely be changed a little."
"So, what's the problem?" Connie looked between the two. "It's pretty great if they can help us with stuff like this. Aside from giving us rubber bullets for me to shoot you with."
"That's not the point moron," the two boys glared at each other, "the point is that Hizuru might have been planning to make this for some time. It might mean they wanted to pull us into future battles or… they were figuring out how the ODM gear works, and the best way to kill us if things didn't work out."
Mikasa's frown deepened as Connie caught on.
"Hey… for real?" The two new recruits behind them looked worriedly at each other, "is that really true…?"
"Who knows, I'm just speculating," Jean tried to reassure them, trying to calm the rookies and not get them too involved with such matters. "I said it mightbe what they wanted."
The pair nodded along, still appearing doubtful after hearing that.
"Don't worry about it guys," Jean turned to Mikasa and Connie, "I just happened to overhear Eren badgering Armin about it. And well… he thinks it's unlikely at least."
Although Armin had been eager to assume that had the best of intentions.
"Well it doesn't matter, for now our job is test that all this stuff works," he called out to remind them all, "any problems Connie?"
"Yeah, like th-"
"Good!" Jean slapped him on the back and turned to the ravenette, "so Mikasa? Since you beat me, my group's gotta follow the rules now. I'm still not sure what Sasha's doing though."
Mikasa nodded before fluttering her cloak over her back. "Right now, let's go find Eren."
"Huh… why?" He hissed back, "since we've got you, shouldn't we go after the biggest threat first?"
"… The captain?" The female Ackerman felt doubtful.
"You bet," Jean confirmed, rubbing his hands in delight, "if it's you Mikasa, we might stand a chance Captain Levi. Besides you also have my team under your command?"
"…" Mikasa looked over them. She also had two new recruits assigned to her team and were keeping them on lookout at the edge of the forest. She hadn't really had any plan of action after she was appointed as a team leader to her surprise. "… I don't…"
"Huh…?" Jean was the 2nd group leader. Mikasa was the 5th group's leader. "What was that…?"
But it sure didn't feel right for her.
'… I don't feel right… being a leader.' She thought to herself, glancing over as she considered asking Jean to take over now that she had captured his group.
The purpose of the exercise was mainly to test the new technology, however it had also been a while since they last performed a task like this.
The island was free from Titans, no longer a limitless enemy which they had to face someday. The only ones left where the shifter under Marley's control.
But since they had also taken on the new recruits of the past 2 generations and required to train them, they had turned this into a group exercise.
It was unknown how they would fight in future battles but they certainly would continue acting in squads.
And so they had split the groups between the surviving members of Shinganshina. The ammunition they used where just practise rounds made of rubber to imitate the bullets.
Once someone was hit, they were given a time out. If however the leader was captured by another group, they would be absorbed under the winning group's wing.
Groups 2 and 5 were now totalling 8, or 7 with a missing Sasha.
Group 1 was carried alone by captain Levi who had some transferred Garrison seniors to babysit as he put it. Whilst it was amusing when it became clear that the older men were struggling with the new gear, it wouldn't slow the captain down at all.
Then it came to groups 3 and 4.
After being called out next, Armin was given group 3 along with Floch. After that, Hanji had gotten to invested in opening up the new contraptions whilst telling them to get started, claiming there would be a reward for whoever came out on top.
"… Jean," Mikasa called to him.
"Yeah?" He was staring at her curiously.
"… Between Eren and Armin, who do you think would give us better chances against the captain?" She wondered openly.
"Huh? Well… those two aren't allowed to use their Titan power anyway, that was also one of the rules. Although the captain was the one who made it, as well as that he himself wouldn't move from the starting point for the first three hours." Jean considered if it would be worth it. That time limit was almost up and now ought to be the best time to strike even if unfairly to their advantage. "But well… if you want someone who can come up with a plan, it's obvious Armin."
"… Right," she nodded after a while, lifting up her gun anchor and shooting it into a nearby tree. The dark haired girl turned to face the group, "look for both Eren and Armin's group. Let's find them both first."
Wall Sina Orphanage
"So… mister leader of Group 4 who is supposed to be busy in the middle of equipment testing in Wall Rose has come up with a master plan to win by spending time inside the inner wall with yours truly." The blonde Queen nudged into his elbow as soon as the kids had dispersed.
"I don't even know why Hanji wanted to raise the stakes," he shrugged. "But yes, you are mine truly."
They watched as the children raced around, happy after finishing their writing period. Historia had shared out books owned by the capital's library and tasked them in writing basic sentences, copying the letters seen across the books.
Staring bemusingly as they picked up the papers, most of the results ended up as drawings of houses, animals and plants that could be seen around the orphanage.
"Honestly, you sure you have the time right now?" She inclined her head curiously at the random scribble across the page. The child here had tried to spell words at the start before quickly beginning to doodle.
"It's fine, I have a window for about 42 minutes." The page he picked up looked like a cross between a reindeer and a fish.
"Is that after accounting for the 6 hour journey back and forth from here?" She motioned putting all the papers into a neat stack.
"I can make it in 4 with my Titan," he shrugged, putting the ones he collected on top. "There's no point in taking part. I'll be the one using my Titan anyway."
"I guess, but in the end you were able to win in Shinganshina, thanks to it," the blonde poked her head out, noticing that her guards were watching at the moment.
"Yeah… but that was with gear made to fighting Titans…" He was prepared to fight against humans beyond the walls. But when it came down to it, it only made sense to use his Titan powers.
Flying in the sky freely…
The memory of when he first got his gear replayed through him.
Back then, donning the wings of freedom, he really had -
Eren shook his head a little, pushing the past away.
"They're keeping watch now. Surprisingly," she smirked, recalling the meeting when it came to reorganising the military guard. "I guess you can't leave right now anyway."
"Sounds good to me," his hands rubbed over her sides, rolling over the blonde's hips and leaving small pecks to her cheeks.
She pulled him by his hand whilst gripping his hair which she sifted through her fingers, playing with their length.
They proceeded through the children's kitchen area which had become a mess and idly began cleaning up. A few times, some of the staff there had walked in, allowing the smaller woman the opportunity to kick her beloved under the desk.
"I feel like I'm being abused lately," Eren decided to make a complaint.
"Oh really?" Historia smugly grinned as though he had taken the bait. "What are you going to do about it?"
"I will have a word with your superior about your behaviour," the brunet warned her, seeing Historia playfully fake her horror. "I demand to speak to the Queen this instant."
"You wouldn't dare!" She covered her mouth with a hand before turning away with a wave, "well it's too bad though, the Queen is busy right now."
"I might have to kidnap her then, or maybe I'll threaten her secret lover," Eren began making a list. "Or perhaps I'll have to seize her from power completely."
"Aren't we getting ambitious now," she giggled, "I don't think she'll be opposed to any of those, but it sounds like you're trying to usurp control now."
"If that's what it takes then so be it," Eren mused it seriously. "Although I might get deposed right after, being a crappy leader that I'd make."
"… No, you would make a great leader." Historia declared.
She put the last of the kitchen utensils down into the sink.
"… How do you figure that?" Finishing on his side as well, he dumbed the cloth into the water whilst washing his hands from the separate bucket.
The room was quiet enough that they could hear the children cheering outside about something.
"Well there's many leaders I guess, technically I am one too, although it's only in name I guess I am a figurative leader…" she posed a finger to her cheek before pointing it at him, "but you're the kind of leader… that can bring about change."
"… Change? Not really… there's nothing I've been able to change…" Eren considered everything that had happened. The times when he was at the centre of an operation. Trost, Stohess, within all three walls, Shinganshina, and then the land outside. "I've never been able to change it alone."
"Perhaps not, but you lead everyone each time, whether to failure or otherwise, it was a step further into the future… you were the one that led them, even if you were not a titled leader of everyone, you absolutely have the capability for it." Her hand reached down to cover his, wiping his dampened hands with a cloth.
Taking the towel for himself, he wiped himself off before Historia clutched over his fingers gently again.
"You can be a leader than can bring about that change…" She declared as though dictating the future. "If I had to say… the one thing from even when I was living as Christa, it was the that you were always holding yourself back."
"Holding myself back… how?" The brunet hesitated.
When it came down to it, he had spent his past charging ahead alone.
Whenever he would look behind him in those moments, there was nobody who had followed him in the end.
"It's simple," she flicked his nose, "you just need to entrust tasks to people suited for them."
"Eh? That's easy…" The Titan shifter tilted his head.
"But you don't do it." Historia smirked triumphantly.
"Well, no… I cannot…" If a battle was about to start, he would never put those close to him at risk, or anyone for that matter. But he wasn't in any position to stop them either. He wasn't the commander.
He wasn't anyone's leader.
"It's not like you need to be awarded a rank to be a leader," she shrugged, "all you need is to give orders to those that would follow you. And people already have a reason to follow you."
"…" It was a weight which he only knew a little about. It was a weight he truly didn't wish to experience. "… I-"
"Don't worry about it," she stroked his arm comfortingly, "I was just saying you would make a great leader."
He nodded, resting his chin on top of her head whilst swaying her smaller body back and forth.
"Hey, you look good with your gear by the way," she smirked with her own country dress attire.
"Yeah?" He mildly raised his hands, "I guess it's not so bad. Doesn't feel right without any swords though."
In place of the old Survey Corps jacket and cape, he now had a thin black clothing with the metal wires travelling all around him. His long dark hair flowed almost to his shoulders now, whilst keeping his back arched a little from habit of the old gear.
He wearing his military jacket on top to hide the curious gazes from the children who had noticed. He didn't have the time to change in and out of it.
"It gives you a pretty allure," her cheeks flushed a little whilst waving a finger, "like uhh… you know… Never mind. What matters is that they did a damn good job of it."
"A quick one as well," Eren noted. "It wasn't exactly for free but it's still a little too generous."
In exchange for the samples of new technology Hizuru had manufactured and provided, they had received a fresh supply of iceburst stones for their own use.
"Yeah, they managed to work on this quickly with so little to go on," Historia agreed with him. "These 'iceburst stones' which are so valuable to them... Paradis truly has a lot of these deposits all across the island. They're used in the factories, for the ferries and inside some of the newer cannon shells. It's a rather dangerous fuel source if it's not used in small quantities."
"Basically they could develop far more powerful weapons than us quickly." He mumbled.
"Possibly… it depends how much they really understand about it. But according to them, Paradis is the only place it can be found." She took him into the next room where there was a small wardrobe filled with educational books from the library. "Some of the kids began asking me about the ODM gear a few days ago. Maybe you can teach them some time."
"Is that even allowed…" He hesitated, remembering the strict procedures they had to follow if they didn't want their gear confiscated in the first year of training.
Thinking back, he had been 12 even back then when he first used it. Some of the older children here would be close to that age now, the time when it had come to choose between field work or the military.
That had been the path one had to choose back then. He had nowhere else to go to. 'At least these kids… still have a home.'
"Not really, but there might be an exception for their hero that took down the Colossal Titan," she smiled, "don't fancy it so much?"
"Not really… well, I guess I could show them what flying with it is like, but…" He rubbed his head, wondering how poor of a teacher he might make. "And also… I don't really want to encourage them to join the military."
"Yeah, me neither," she nodded, picking out a book and skimming through the pages, "but they can't help being curious about such a device. Just thought it might satisfy their curiosity if you showed them once. Some are already keen on joining the military though there's nothing we can do to stop them if they choose to, but…"
"They don't realise what they'll be losing," the brunet continued, "what they could lose…"
"Yeah, they began asking me about how the ODM gear works though," she stopped at a page, laying it down on the table, "I took this out of the library, not noticing how detailed this was…"
Eren leaned over to her, looking over the book. It was an entire history of the development of the ODM gear, beginning with the first design from someone named Angel Altonen up until the perfected version they had both used for years, finalized later by a student of the same man, a woman called Sharle Inocencio.
On the page laid out before him, it showed a rough drawing of an underground deposit of the iceburst stone, the one beneath the industrial city within Wall Rose.
"It caught my interest too," she admittedly did not know about the finer aspects of the ODM gear. She had been particularly studious like Armin in training but even there, the instructors had never gone into detail about how the device was made. "It's not necessary accurate... wherever I've asked, not much has changed. Not many people know how the iceburst stones were created, pretty much everything recorded comes from the people in this book, especially these three, Angel, another foreman engineer called Xenophon and Sharle."
Eren nodded whilst feeling he had heard the names somewhere before but as often it was, there was no specific memory he could make out.
"They spent their later lives investigating it but they don't say anything else about it," her finger traced over the last passage on the page, a vaguely scribbled note. "Just this. The only thing they could estimate was 'from the other mineral deposits beneath, the layer of iceburst stone which was exposed to surface air, was formed at least over 800 years ago.' "
He tried to read over the passage form a distance he could still see clearly, recalling back to what Kiyomi had said about it. They had known about it before them, although that may just be due to the first Reiss King who wiped out their memory of it.
Something connected to the Power of the Titans…
"Like the underground chapel huh…" The day remained firmly planted in his mind, the ethereal image always clear. "There's some legend from outside that Zeke convinced them about… that stuff he said about an ancient King of the Walls digging holes into Paradis and depositing them there… Actually when I stop to think about it, that's just strange."
"Right? Why leave something like that in the ground. If it could be used back then, then why was it created in the first place?" She reached out her hand hopefully to him, "think we might get anything if we try going there?"
"Who knows…" He took her hand. A light zap briefly stung the top of his fingers which he traced over her palm.
Like playfully denying him like usual, the memories chose not to answer him.
On the occasions that they did, they had always required some trigger.
But beyond that, there wasn't any pattern he could work out either.
"… Anything?" She held his hand instead, not worrying too much about it. "It doesn't matter, there's no rush. Even if we might find out the reason someday, it may not help us in the end."
Eren nodded, feeling his vision go awry for a moment before vanishing.
The clock turned to the next hour.
4 Hours Later – Wall Rose Territory
"WOAAW! Hey, check this out Levi," the commander called over to her captain, "Hizuru really outdid themselves with these."
She fired another one of the real bullets into the tree which pierced deeply into the bark with an immense sound following the recoil.
"Uwah, talk about scary, hey you guys, line up some metal so I can test this again!" Hanji ordered the new former garrison members who were all lined up.
"Hey, when will you be finished playing with your new toy?" Levi glanced at her, not bothering to get involved.
"Come on, Levi. Don't be like that," she sighed at him, his own gear not even unboxed, "and why have you taken the guns off from yours?"
"I don't need them," he declared, wearing the new style ODM gear replaced with the blade handles from the old. "Those little guns won't help me kill Titans."
"Well, yeah… but that's the reason…" The middle aged woman felt her spirit zap again, wandering over to him. "If possible, we might be able to avoid killing any Titans anymore."
"No." Levi scowled. "There's one more bastard that still needs to die."
She looked around the encampment. Ever since expanding to the ocean coast of the island, the Garrison had been moved out further outside Wall Maria. Inspired by the progress, many of them had also opted to transfer into the Survey Corps.
There were many older ones amongst them experienced in the defence of Wall Rose but they were also lacking from experience with the ODM gear.
At present, there were about 50 who were newly granted into the Survey Corps, many of whom however were still struggling with the old gear that they rarely used since training.
Levi was personally assigned to bring them up to speed, which had varying results. Most of them were still hanging about from a single wire in the trees although some had become more disciplined in their practise.
"Still you could at least try it on, they said they can make adjustments for us the next time to include the thunder spears too," Hanji urged. They had received 20 of the new prototypes, and so decided to split into 5 groups of four whilst Hanji had detached the guns from Levi's gear and been testing them.
"Tch, whatever," the captain stood up, noticing movement in the trees, "hey four eyes, your little group is still part of this exercise."
"Huh, oh well… right now, I'm going to…" She looked around, seeing the new prop ready and looking over her choice of bullets.
"You're under by command right now," he reminded her in annoyance, "or do I need to make an example out of a commander who doesn't even follow her own orders."
Sulking lightly, Hanji readjusted the new ODM gear for herself as well along with the other chosen group members, the best six out of the former garrison members who could at least respond agilely with the old ODM gear.
She passed over a tied up Sasha and called them over to where Levi was watching.
A bang sent out as a flare shot out through the trees and suddenly smoke separated the senior Survey Corps leaders.
"Oh, not bad," Hanji jumped in surprise, seeing the green smoke disperse quickly. "I did allow them to grab whatever else they wanted after all."
They were in the middle of the forest of giant trees, at the place where they had sent up camp and began testing their new gear. The other Survey Corps members, both new recruits and transfers who were working around the camp, jumped back to not get involved in the conflict.
"Good, at least they're taking this seriously," Levi pressed a handle and drew out a blade in both hands, "it's been a while."
More smoke signals were fired all over from the high trees, blinding the individuals gathered at the main camp.
"Commander, what should we do?!" One of the garrison members on Hanji's team was waving their swords to try and waft the smoke away with little success.
"Huh, but Levi's in command right now!" She grinned helplessly at the shorter man.
"Oi, that doesn't mean you can kick back," the captain glared at her. "Think up of something. You're supposed to be the brains here."
Rather unspectacularly, Levi had gotten the drop on Hanji who was playing about in the main camp with the new equipment so as the group 1 leader, for the duration he was supposed to have control over Hanji and her team.
Not that it meant she would listen if she didn't want to. One look at the fancy new stuff and she had become fanatic again and he already knew from experience that she required a week before she would get over it.
"Well I guess so," she recovered the goggles over her eyes, "then Levi, why don't you try using the guns now?"
"Stupid, there's no time for that," Levi decided to jump into action after narrowing avoiding a single shot of the rubber. No further shot followed.
He jumped, burst out the gas and shot his anchors into the trees, launching from where the first shot had come.
"Break up!" Jean's voice called over them all. "It's the captain!"
The trees became filled with scurrying gears splitting into all directions. It seemed as though they were already breaking a fragile formation.
A fraction of a second later, the Ackerman took in everything from all directions in an instance. "8 of them, members from three groups."
Contrary to how it appeared, he located Armin and Jean to one side and the other 6 that moments ago were fleeing, now had turned in an arc around the various trees, pointing their guns at him.
"Now!" Armin gave the signal as planned, four dozens of gun fire unloaded from different directions. 'It's all made up at the last minute, but at this distance, from all sides -'
The Scouts all gasped when the rubber bullets just vanished from the air. The captain had turned into a spin which caught every one of shots with his swords.
"Tch, so they aren't so easy to deflect," Levi scowled. Taking him on from all sides, he had used the flat side of his swords to try to redirect them at each other. The team members were all flying in far too straight of a trajectory that made them vulnerable. If only the bullets had been round like he was used to, he could have shown them their error.
"Wh-?! Why are you still using swords, captain?!" Connie explained whilst regrouping.
"Damn, I figured he could dodge them but…" Jean leaned over to the blond. He had met him up by chance after joining Mikasa's group. After he put up a bit of a fight for fair play, Armin had already given up once Mikasa likewise dropped behind him and tapped his shoulder.
"Yeah," Armin nodded, keeping his eyes focused on the captain. "We never had much of a chance like this."
The Captain had followed up and taken out two new recruits from the other's team before noticing the two former 104th staring intensively and then shooting off in Connie's direction, who was closest to him. The bald boy had been a part of Mikasa's group. "!"
"Eek!" Bracing for the impact, Connie swerved aside, firing with both pistols, no match for the captain's speed. But just before he was about to be hit at close quarters, Levi turned to the side and began racing back. "Ah! Guys, captain's noticed!"
Bursting out of the canopy, he saw that Hanji and the other 6 between their groups were already under attack.
"Dammit! This is dangerous!" Two of the former garrison members he was in charge of had gone down, one clutching their leg, the other near the stomach from the rubber bullets.
"Hey, hey!" Hanji aimed carefully whilst jumping back in panic, "this is seriously not fair you guys!"
"Commander," Floch called over whilst hiding behind a wagon in the centre, popping up and firing quickly before hiding again, "aren't we the ones outmatched here?!"
"Oh! Well I guess that's true…" She had noticed Levi shooting through the green smoke and jumping into the fray, slapping another two of the new recruits with the flat side of his blades.
The only one left here was no Floch, who was being chased by two of the garrison seniors now.
His eyes locked and his blades clashed from a charge, causing sparks to fly. It didn't unfaze him in the least, the other Ackerman was whom he was expecting would put up the most challenge.
"Captain," the taller girl controlled her breathing steadily, a pair of swords now attached to her handles instead of guns too.
"Hoh?" Holding back with his strength, the middle aged man bent his knees against the ground and slashed outwardly to the girl's side.
The black haired girl parried it with her left and thrust with her right, ready to stop short of the man. Neither were using their full strength but that alone was still far above a regular soldier's strength.
Pushing her back with a twist of his wrist, the girl took a step back before applying a bit more strength to her next wind, slashing upwards.
He sidestepped and smashed his right sword into the back of her right, causing it to crack. Out of everyone, he felt like Mikasa had been the only one that had never slacked off on her daily training routine. Her muscle strength was much greater than the last time they had duelled.
Hanji had insisted that Levi mentored Mikasa more, recognising her strength and wanting to see if anything could be learnt from the Ackermans. Levi knew that Mikasa was a great strength in need of refinement, outside of their now two Titan shifters, he had agreed and demonstrated the difference between their strengths and given Mikasa motivation to grow.
"Huh," the captain mused for a second if he was trying to raise a replacement once his final mission was finished. "Not bad."
Mikasa had twisted her sword back, bending Levi's thin blade before trying to elbow him to the side. He had dodged it but in that time, Mikasa's left blade and slashed into his right, still sticking into her own right sword.
Both of their right swords snapped to a third of the length in the collision and they discarded it quickly. Levi kept holding the remaining blade easily in his left hand whilst Mikasa switched it over to her right, holding it with both hands.
They only had one sword remaining each, the new ODM gear no longer holding the cases for more blades.
Looking over, he saw that Floch had been taken down but the remaining members from the trees had now joined in, now left with only Hanji and one more being backed into a corner. At some point, Sasha had also been untied but since she claimed she was disqualified, she had taken the chance to jump into their supply tent.
He turned to the side and jumped away from the duel.
"Here, Levi!" Hanji saw him move and tossed him one of the guns, ducking down to reload her own.
The black haired man hesitated before grabbing it in the end, quickly aiming at each of the targets with precision and firing.
"SHIT!" Jean yelled out as he jumped in front of Armin, blocking the fire. "Ah, damn it! It does hurt!"
"Jean!" The blond caught him before quickly descending.
"Told y-BHH!" Connie fell a second after, distracted in the scene with Hanji apologising over to him before aiming swiftly at another of the new recruits.
The small numbers had quickly whittled each other down. Levi tossed the gun aside without reloading zooming around the camp and tripping up the last of the new recruits who gasped and raised his hands in surrender. Now the only ones who remained unhurt were Levi, Hanji, Mikasa and Armin.
"Man, nice of Eren to never show up," Jean sighed after checking that he was fine, "come on, you can keep using me as shield if you need to."
"I'm not going to do that…" Armin sighed, looking around. In the end, after they searched the whole forest around, they couldn't find him. Since the day was turning late, they had decided to try out the best they could at least and there was no harm in losing. Aside from that it hurt.
The blond boy jumped up when he realised he was the only one left. The captain sprinted towards him from a short distance and jumped, ready to finish him up.
Mikasa run headlong and smashed her blades into his, pushing him aside before beginning another fierce clash.
Levi blocked with his sword, pushing the palm of his hand against the tip before knocking Mikasa back.
"Gh!" She ground her teeth, glancing at her childhood friend. "Armin, watch out!"
"Ah!" He quickly dodged a bullet from Hanji at the centre.
"Hey, Levi! Guess we'll have the reward after all!" The commander enthusiastically yelled, quickly joining in to support him.
"What stupid reward?" He asked in the midst of swinging at the girl, cracking her blade again. "Besides the winning group would be mine since you're too stupid."
"Hey, don't be like that! The leaders which lose have to listen to the winn- WOAH!" Hanji yelled back, dodging a bullet from Armin who followed up in rapid succession. The second shot had almost grazed her, causing her hair to loosen.
"Ah, sorry…" Armin apologised. He had been trying to not aim for her head but his aim was weak and his arms were still trembling.
Mikasa stumbled when the captain pushed her back, feeling her blade ready to give way.
"You've still got a long way to go," Levi chided her, positioning his with a looser grip. "You're still tensed up because of what happened with the ambassador."
"Wh- What are you-" Mikasa blinked in confusion, the words suddenly getting to her. The blade in her hands broke and she realised she had lost focus for a moment.
"Mikasa!" Armin yelled at her. She turned to his direction and saw it clearly. Armin had quickly removed the gun from his handles and thrown it to her. He knew that rather trying to hit Hanji with his unsteady aim, he had thrown it to the second strongest amongst them.
She caught it quickly with her hand, seeing Armin hit on the chest by a rubber bullet a second later. Her hands clenched over, pulling the gun from her side, straight into the captain, whose eyes widened for the first time.
The distance was about 4 metres. She could fire 4 times before needing to reload. Without wasting a moment, Mikasa fired.
Levi was able to catch the direction whilst jumping forward, just able to block the shot that would have landed in his lower abdomen.
In 3 metres, he realised for the first time that he couldn't follow the movement. His eyes caught the recoil but the modern weapon of across the seas was able to fire fast enough that even he couldn't see it anymore.
Even so, he raise the sword to his shoulder, knowing where it would hit from the trajectory of the gun.
Mikasa realised quickly what had happened too, this time taking a step forward and flicking the gun at the short distance.
She was now close enough where his blade could reach her.
Levi felt his senses heighten, for the first time in a long while being surprised by a faster movement than he could respond.
But he had already read the girl's dark eyes, shifting slightly to look at his leg. He dropped the blade at his fastest speed, reaching in time as he blocked it too.
Levi's hand paused for the tiniest moment, feeling the weight drop of his handle. He felt his final blade had broken without seeing it, realising he only had a small portion of steel left.
Both Ackermans skid half a step closer, the gun now only a metre away where he could grab it if his hands were not preoccupied.
Mikasa closed her eyes, pushing her own senses as high as she could, to almost the same level as the higher experienced soldier.
She fired the last bullet straight in the centre of his chest.
Opening her eyes a second after, she pressed onwards, ready to follow up if it failed. She was sure that this last shot would last at least. 'At least… I wouldn't be able to-'
The rubber bullet bounced off the handle of the blade. The shot dropped off into the ground to Mikasa's amazement.
Levi didn't hesitate for another second before digging his palm into her chest, stopping the girl's advance and pushing her off the floor.
"Wh-!" Everyone around them gasped in amazement, the flurry lasting barely a second and became completely unseeable in the last two shots.
Mikasa's back fell onto the ground, huffing in surprise. The gun fell out of her hand, now empty whilst Levi, his face composed as usual, pointed his broken blade to her.
'If that was a real bullet, I might not have been able to see it from that close.' He thought over it for a moment. Of course, guns were meant to be used from a range, at which point his extraordinary senses could see the tiny projective.
But at point blank, he had felt he glanced at his physical limit for the first time. Levi looked grimly down at the other Ackerman who nodded and lowered her hand in defeat, not letting his thoughts show. He wondered if with the proper training, someday the young girl might be capable of more than him.
"!" Out of nowhere, Levi whizzed around, turning on his feet. But it was too late. His body stiffened as the new ODM gear, which now had wires running all along his arms got stuck in place, preventing him from bending his arm just for a second. Compared to the old version where the wires were shot from the belt around the hips, the wires run along the arms up to the spools behind the shoulders.
Before he could understand what had caused the wires to suddenly get stuck the pain shot across the captain's back. "Tch."
He blinked for a while before turning, wondering if his back had just caught up with his age suddenly.
Dressing in the black ODM gear, Eren was looking expressionlessly at him, the gun pointed towards him. His back had just been hit by a rubber bullet. The captain had been lost in his own thoughts, but even then he felt something was strange.
There was a time he had lost a couple fights but that was long in the past. There were many times he couldn't save those he wanted and couldn't make it in time for them. There was a single rare moment like just now when he had felt the limits of his own strength when it came to his own fights.
But there was never a time when he felt such unusualness. There may have been times where he had been negligent and the rarest of seconds where he hadn't noticed something.
But never had there been a time where someone had felt so invisible, in a place they couldn't possibly be, appearing out of nowhere.
"Eren…" Mikasa blinked in equal surprise pushing herself off the ground.
"Does group 4 win then?" The brunet asked simply with a straight face, pulling his wet hair back. His whole body was completely soaked in water.
Levi frowned intensely, pulling back his arms as the wires in his gear remained taunt, not letting him move properly. Perhaps he had been too engrossed to notice and for a second, his arm had gotten stuck, unable to block the shot in time, but his initial thought returned. "Where did you crawl out from you sneaky bastard."
"In the trees," Eren answered vaguely, setting aside his guns, "it was only thanks to Mikasa that I got the drop on the captain."
"Eren…" Mikasa mumbled pleasantly, seeing him return the nod to her, feeling glad that she helped him but also just as surprised as the captain. "Why are you soaked…?"
Levi stared doubtfully, tugging back at his arm. Perhaps he had been too indulged in thought and was stopped by his gear's malfunction but he still felt something off from Eren's sudden appearance. The wires were still taunt and preventing his arm from swinging properly. "Hanji, fix this crappy thing."
"Seriously you bastard," Jean murmured in surprise, not bothering to ask why his clothes were drenched, "just how long were you hiding for?"
"Huh…?" Eren blinked in confusion after seeing Levi and Mikasa's stares especially. They truly looked like they had sensed his presence at all and were taken rather aback by him. "I just got here."
"Where…" Armin quietened down, deciding not to ask. They searched the whole forest around but were unable to find him. It was a rather large forest with a small valley running through but they had spent steady hours moving around and calling for Eren and the rest of the group.
"Speaking of which, where's the rest of your group?" Hanji asked whilst examining Levi's gear, pulling at the spools which were not turning.
'I lost them,' Eren thought, remembering how he had them chase him into the valley within the forest before disappearing. He had only returned but thankfully found them down river still searching for him after splashing himself with water too. The new recruits had been worried since their own gear had jammed too. As anticipated. "Right, our gears malfunctioned and we ended up down river. They're all alright but-"
"Huh?!" Hanji suddenly jumped back, pulling something out of Levi's gear. His wires instantly loosened and he could bend his arm as normal again. It wouldn't have stopped him if he needed to break them but it had allowed Eren the second he needed to land his shot. "What's this doing here…"
Armin and Levi quickly joined her, examining what appeared like a bolt that was in the middle of the spools.
"Could it… have been planted?" Armin reluctantly considered. They hadn't had any issues with the new gear from Hizuru until this point.
Looking over all their gears quickly they all found the same issue. The bolt was placed much too close to the wires, such that if the anchors were shot out and retracted too quickly whilst the handles were engaged and triggered, a the wires would wind back too fast and jam.
"It couldn't be intentional…" Hanji shook her head after testing it herself, causing her own hand to become taunt from the wire's pressure. "Hizuru must know we wouldn't use something without testing it first… I'm sure this was just a manufacturing error! The bolts are meant to be in place to hold the gear together only they are of the wrong shape and size."
A few concerns had began to settle in all the Scouts after Hanji made the announcement once Eren's group had been recovered, the three new recruits relieved so see him after he apologised for disappearing, claiming that he had to land because of his gear but ended up stuck in the river.
Amongst the gathered group of 50 people, Eren dipped past without being seen through the crowd.
He frowned a little, surprised that nobody seemed to take notice of him either.
Perhaps they were all just sleepy but it felt a little unusual.
Like his presence wasn't being seen.
He finally found himself next to the blond boy, his hair shaped like a bird's nest.
"Keep this hidden," Eren whispered, handing the tools back to Floch who jumped a little but nodded. "And thanks for helping."
"R-Right…" Floch whispered back looking behind his shoulders and jumping nervously each time. He frowned a little as the brunet, stuffing the small bolts into his pockets. "Hey… is there a reason you wanted to-"
He blinked when he saw Eren had disappeared already. After coming him with the strange request, he had vanished again just like when he appeared behind Levi. It felt like he had become completely invisible for a moment. "What the hell was that…"
There was nobody around him thankfully as he continued acting natural, praying this matter would be dropped and nobody would investigate further.
He would never have expected to be asked by Eren of all people to play a hand in a bit of sabotage. He had hesitated until Eren explained how it worked in detail and that the jam could only occur once someone landed on the ground at high speed. But it truly had to be a high speed, something only possible at free fall from a great height or with the reflexes of Captain Levi.
It was their own equipment but it had stirred questions against Hizuru in people's minds.
"Needless to say, we'll inform the ambassador of this and all your other suggestions," the commander concluded the exercise at the camp table before recalling, "oh yeah, so in due course, the victors today are group 4! Come over here Eren!"
"R-Really?" The new recruits from Eren's team blinked at each other then over to their leader who made no response whilst appearing out of the crowd. They quickly broke out in cheers when hearing of how Eren managed to land a shot on captain Levi of all people. Other quickly began to congratulate them whilst Levi stared dimly at Eren himself.
"So then," Hanji asked the brunet under the applause. "As your reward, how about having the once in a life time opportunity to boss Levi and the all the other team leaders around for the day? Of course I'll be with you, making sure they lis-"
"Thank you commander," Eren interrupted her, musing the image but having a far more important wish, "but please can I just get a day off in the capital?"
Early Fall of the Year 852 – The New World of Vestgotland
Landing after landing was made, each port town requiring to be taken over individually at the cost of hundreds of men each time.
"FIRE QUICKLY!" The company of soldiers fired in rows against his Titan armour. The bullets designed against men bounced off from the plates.
'…! Huh?' Or so it had seemed from the distance at least.
A shot of pain slashed through his eyes, feeling himself losing vision in his left eyes. Multiple machine guns had been turned towards him from the close range of the enemy waiting at the beach.
He had been covering his face as much as he could with both his arms as he advanced through the water but shallow waters but the continuous string of bullets had managed to slip through and take out part of his vision.
The Titan shifter focused his regeneration into his eye without slowing his advance, his thighs finally lifting out of the water, letting him move faster again.
The island hopping strategy had been troublesome but all successful for Marley in the end. He had heard that all the warriors had been brought here now, and that Pieck, Zeke and Porco had all made fast advances in taking care of the frontlines.
All of them had done in much faster than him.
The Mid-East Alliance had taken over the outposts across the Brunaverg islands but had stationed only enough men to repel ships after the Marleyian navy had suffered it's continuous losses. There was little in the way of stopping the Titan shifters, the anti-Titan artillery had not been brought to these islands.
One by one, Marley had regained control, losing almost 5 men for every 1 in the detachments they had captured.
But they had now finally reached the shores of the continent. Here, their enemy had conscripted far larger forces.
"Stand fast!" the captain of the column bellowed over the sound of battle, remaining on foot with his men whilst aiming his own pistol helplessly, "no matter what comes, we will not bend to oppressors! Aim for the devil slave's head!"
Always watching the lines, Reiner sensed that the enemy troops here had resolved to die and kept desperately striking him with the meagre weapons they had.
The attention of the 2 thousand garrison was all upon him, shielding the rowboats of the Marleyian ships once more.
His armoured foot sunk into the sand before sweeping a hand through the group. A hundred men were killed in a single strike, slowly retreating whilst not stopping their attacks.
Desperately rowing onto the shore, the Marleyian soldiers began giving counter fire at the Mid-East Alliance, jumping into the shallow water to avoid being hit by the spraying bullets.
Raising himself up again, the Armoured Titan raised his foot out and crushed over the machine guns, patrolling along the beach.
The soldiers arrived in droves, now used to the beach landings. They had gone through all the essential islands in the Brunaverg belt, reclaiming Marley's territories, sometimes fighting over for just a few kilometres of land.
Almost half the legion that initially set out had been decimated now, quickly replaced by recruits and prisoners from the islands.
With no enemies left to rebel one of the 9 Titans, the Mid-East Alliance gave the order to retreat as Marley's forces began cheering in celebrations.
The navy was still engaged away from sure, fighting an indecisive battle between their remaining dreadnoughts. The Mid-East Alliance's ships were much more mobile and resistant from afar
After the daylight ended over the tropical zone, a lone blimp had descended out from the sky, confirming their news and first victory in the continent.
Marley worked to secure it's borders and begin preparing to let trade ships resume their voyages across the continent.
3 more of Marley's legions were being brought over the Aegir ocean by the next month. The half drowned forces here would continue their pursuit further into the continent.
Reiner bumped shoulders with another Eldian whilst wandering through their camp, offering him aid as the man dropped the ammunition of the floor and the two men hastily began picking it up, bullet by bullet and round by round.
"Thank you…" The man had lost an eye and much of the side of his face, seared off completely by the blast and having looked in his direction.
"Sure…" The Titan shifter was grateful, crouching sidewards and keeping the red armband faced away from the soldier.
"W-Wait. Y-You… saved me," the man had noticed it the moment he tried to conceal it.
Reiner nodded slowly. 'Should I pretend to recognize him?'
He was certain Reiner the soldier would.
The soldier would see that the man was alright and reassure him everything would be fine from now on.
It was not going to be fine.
He didn't know what would happen to the man of course, but he couldn't lie.
But really, what pained him the most was -
"Oh, thank you, thank you," the man bowed, weeping softly whilst the Titan shifter watched uncomfortably.
His response tried to break out and console the man.
Reiner suppressed that emotion entirely, sinking back into a silent shell.
Lifting the crate up once more, he motioned over, trying to still himself.
'The right thing to do here…' He knew it was rather cold to keep ignoring people like this.
But even if he could stomach expressing himself like that again, like Marcel had always done…
"T-Thank you… so much…" The Eldian controlled himself. "It's thanks to you that I'm alive…"
Reiner felt he could never have that right again.
"Oi, get a move on!" A passing Marleyian shouted over. For a moment, the blond thought it was meant for him until he realised the guards who were standing at the ends of the camp's fences.
There was a great clamour at the gates, with new reporters and journalists crowding around and demanding answers on how the war was progressing. The Marleyians on this continent had been cut off from any updated news from the continent, their communications lost for the past year and half.
"S-Sorry…" The young soldiers bowed deeply, taking the crate steadily in his own hands, before scurrying out of his way and wishing the Titan shifter their blessings. That was how it usually would be for new recruits.
Reiner watched him turn away and leave before proceeding down to the camps.
"He has a red armband!" One of the people outside the gate shouted out in surprise. "It's one of the 9 devils!"
Moving past quickly, he returned to his lodgings. A private, empty room for once.
"I saw him! I saw him! Marley has brought it's Titans here to save us!" The shouts could still be heard from here. His small tent, devoid of any belongings was close to the fence.
Although that wouldn't stop the blame falling on him, it was against the law to conceal the armband of an Eldian.
Later that night, he was visited by a few other Eldians who apologized for the interruption, all bringing the same gratitudes over and over again.
All of them were new recruits, many of them were sailors who had been chosen to continue the overland march.
All of them had seen him on the beach.
The Armoured Titan that had stood undaunting against the enemy machine guns, island after island.
Having been taught of the power of the Titans, he provided security and some degree of reverence before the first battle. That was when they realised the Armoured Titan was unlikely to come to their aid. Of course if ever the chance would come, he would shield the Eldians and lure the enemies to target him gladly.
But they understood quickly. The Armoured Titan was protecting Marley, not the Eldians.
From there, their looks would turn more disappointed and somewhat spiteful, coupled with the teachings which they had become accustomed to from Marley's rule, the mark of a Titan shifter would be seen as a reminder of the reason to their subjugation.
And as battle after battle came, the survivors would sometimes catch a glimpse or hear of the acts of the Titan shifters that would press the war to both their and Marley's favour.
The next stages follow as veteran soldiers would greet him whilst keeping a respectful distance and instructing the inexperienced to not burden the weight on his shoulders even more.
He appreciated it, though he would see less and less after all.
The more battles they faced, the more experienced they became, all at their own different rates of course.
But the nature of war had changed.
Anyone's survival in such a battle depended on fortune more than experience anymore.
Early Fall of the Year 852 – Outskirts of the Capital Mithras
"!" The Titan shifter jolted upon hearing his name being called out loudly, turning to the source nervously.
"It was all thanks to him! This land was saved thanks to Eren Jaeger!" In the middle of the public square, a large crowd of town workers had gathered around someone giving a speech
"…" He relaxed upon realizing nobody had actually noticed him. The person in the centre of the market square was boldly proclaiming his name behind wagons filled with produce.
Keeping his hood over his head, his side pressed against the wall whilst his chest covered over his heart.
Despite it being one of the emptier parts of the capital, it felt like every person from across this side of town had gathered here.
"See what I mean?" Historia grumbled, keeping her hood low whilst sneaking through the back of the crowds.
"I swear it wasn't like this the last I was here…" Eren frowned at the claims that were being made about him.
"He reclaimed the lost territory of Wall Maria!"
'That was hardly just me…'
"He uncovered the secrets of our true enemy!"
'That's something I did whatsoever…'
"He alone, guides and protects this island, our home! For as long as we have Eren Jaeger, our nation of Eldia will forever survive!"
'… There's nothing even close that's true about that.'
His mood had quickly become sour. It was ironic, thinking back to when he first discovered he could turn into a Titan. The looks of the people's faces revealed how they saw truly saw things far more than this audience.
"It wasn't so vocal before no…" The blue eyed girl had noticed the rise in popularity over the years, "it began last year really, once the first grounds of Wall Maria had been regrown and there was finally enough food to go around for the first time in a decade, people began to think highly of the Survey Corps again."
They listened to the people discussing just that, everything that was happening thanks to Wall Maria's recovery.
"But people are still worried what to make of Marley and the many tales of the enemies across the sea which have been made up." She had frowned incredulously at some of the misconceptions that had become common rumour when some of her visitors had come asking questions about it. "But in the last year when people have come out of the walls and workers are now building the harbour and our first port town, they speak of how you are there in the sea, raising enemy ships into the air and bringing them into the harbour."
Eren nodded slowly. The image of him easily taking care of them had caused them to carry high thoughts of him. Just like the time he carried the boulder in Trost which some people were recalling.
Then a certain rumour made them both freeze.
"Hey, I heard that the Queen is often seeing Eren Jaeger." A group of young girls were discussing amongst themselves.
The mentioned pair quickly looked at each other whilst looking in the opposite direction but still within earshot.
"Really?! Where did you hear that?" The group quickly began to gossip.
"My brother-in-law works within the palace." The first girl began to continue. "He's a servant that cleans the rooms. When he entered to clean one of the abandoned rooms, he saw them sitting across the table from another -"
"So it wasn't an abandoned room?" To their fortune, some snobby picker helped their case. They recalled that certain close encounter and claimed they had private matters regarding Titan powers to discuss to that servant.
"E-Eh, well no…" The woman hesitated for a second considering the hole in the story. "A-Anyway… it doesn't change that Eren Jaeger is known to pass through the main road from the south on a frequent basis…"
Nodding to each other, they quickly agreed to get out of here, finding the desolate small route which Historia had noticed during a trip around the city.
They eventually found a spot, a little out of town still close by the road. An old stone wall still remained, marking the border between farmlands. They both sat down on the top, placing the basket on Historia's side.
"Gowww woon." Historia mumbled, keeping the pastry perfectly balance in her mouth, the end on her side was becoming wet with saliva and slowly slipping out of her mouth.
"How am I supposed to eat this whole…" Eren looked at the vanilla filled bun from all sides. It was round and didn't have any end to start biting on, and given it was the size of a small cannonball, it was too big to eat whole.
"Huwwwwy!" The blonde tensed up, trying to stop her teeth from biting a chunk off fully like she was so desperate from, already entice with the soft vanilla fragrance.
"Honey?" He smirked, "you want honey on top?"
"Nnn-!" She silenced herself, feeling the bun wobble whilst Eren began rummaging through the basket.
"Sorry, we don't have anything with honey here," he closed it again, seeing Historia at her limit, "or were you asking me since I'm your honey? I thought we agreed though that nickname was jus-mh!"
Tired of waiting, Historia jumped up and smacked the bun into his mouth, silencing him.
Blood flowed to their heads from the close eye contact with nothing but a single vanilla cream pastry separating them.
Within seconds, they had chewed through it all and proceeded to engage into each other after Historia pushed Eren back onto the grass.
"Man, you're such a glutton…" Eren complained, tidying himself up. There were sticky pecks left all across his face which he smiled to while brushing over with his hand.
"Say 'aah'!" The blonde turned round of him, having picked a piece of fruit cake with a fork from the basket and was holding it out to him.
She really wasn't a big eater at all. It only ever happened when it came to her partner. Whether it was within the capital, the orphanage or in their far-off retreat, Eren always brought an atmosphere that made her food taste so much better.
Otherwise unless her maids would urge her, it wasn't uncommon for her to decline lunch or share her meal to the children to taste the rich food. At any rate they were thrilled at flavours they never experienced.
Mumbling quietly, Eren opened his mouth so that Historia could feed him the little slice before flashing him a smile. "How is it?"
Historia really did like pastries though, and Eren felt he was growing a fondness for it too despite never being too fussed about what he ate, aside from his mom's old recipes. "Mhm, it is good. Is this lemon?"
She nodded in response before picking another slice. The Titan shifter reached out quickly before she could do anything else and slide the fork out of her fingers.
"Hey! I want one too!" She glowered at him, ready to pounce again.
"Say 'aah'." He imitated her. Historia pouted before shaking her head. "Come o-!"
The smaller girl snapped up and engulfed the piece from where Eren was holding it out to her in a single bite.
The brunet sighed, turning away from his lover's victorious smile before checking the basket again.
"Oh sh-!" Whilst picking out another treat, he suddenly saw a passing group on the road, ducking behind the wall with the basket as Historia quickly joined him. "Damn, one of them looked at me…"
They waited for a second, expecting the people to question them or maybe pass them off as a bizarre couple with any luck.
The footsteps continued as the group went by them, chatting quietly but not noticing the pair.
"Oh…" Eren frowned for a second, "maybe not then…"
The pair stood up again and right at that moment, another pair, appearing like a husband and wife passed on the road, turning to look at them.
Freezing like statues, Historia grabbed Eren, turning his back to them whilst she hid behind his body, capturing his lips as they quickly embraced and pressed intensely against each other.
Nobody would generally interrupt a kissing couple or try to invasively check their faces.
"Hm? Did you just see someone…" The woman stopped by the road, staring straight where Eren and Historia were kissing.
"I thought so too…" The husband stopped as well, looking around, "well there's nobody there anyway…"
"… Eh?" Eren and Historia pulled away from each other, watching as the married couple left as well, following after the group of people.
They watched silently as a quarter of an hour later, another person walked by them, and then a small wagon went.
None of them noticed them.
"What's happening…" After that, they knew it was no coincidence.
They headed back on the road into the palace, hand in hand and daring to lower their hoods when they approached the gates.
Nobody noticed them.
Nobody even looked at them.
Neither the city people, nor the guards nor the servants around the palace as they sneaked around to the secret entrance they used into the palace through the gardens.
When they separated at last, the invisible air around them seemed to break and Eren was noticed as he left through the front, appreciative for once that the glaring guards were helpful in confirming they could see him again.
He sat quietly on the carriage thinking about it, fighting the urge to turn around and return to Historia again, even though he confirmed that her maidservants had noticed her just before he left.
By the time he arrived in the Survey Corps headquarters once more, he began recalling when he returned to the previous exercise in the last moments.
That time he had departed from the orphanage, he recalled that no children had seen him before quickly transforming into a Titan immediately after.
It had been the first time he had seen the strange spectacle happen, certain it could be no coincidence.
His spine ached for a moment when Armin turned to recognise him, recalling the incident from a year ago and that he was no further in understanding what it was.
Mid Fall of the Year 852 – En Route to Marley
The longer a war continued, the more of it's true nature would get out.
By now, the newspapers were flocking from both sides, showing how Marley was drowning it's soldiers to reclaim the beaches whilst the Mid-East Alliance was likewise butchering it's men in an attempt to gain ground in the continent after news reached of Marley's victories on the coasts of Vestgotland.
Both sides were using their influence of the media to conceal and deceive the people as per usual.
Portraying their own victories as heroic liberations and their defeats as unjust massacres.
Fast tactical victories would be glorified, drawn out pointless battles would be condemned.
And in the end, it was only the results which would justify how a war would be remembered or forgotten.
Skimming through the paper, Reiner didn't take much care in reading it, not expecting any good when it came to mentioning the Eldians that had joined the war. The best Marley did was extend acknowledgement to the volunteers.
Before quickly shipping them off to their deaths.
But such had it been for all time.
The Armoured Titan was not a hero.
He couldn't stop something worldwide and he would never have the strength to even think about such things as salvation again.
What he wanted… the only thing he wanted, was -
"Oi, Eldian!" a Marleyian officer approached him, throwing a package hard.
Catching it lazily in one hand, the Titan shifter ignored the snide glare in his direction and opened the letter.
"There's another plane for ya," the man clucked his tongue and left. "Maybe this one will be yer last."
The summons came from Magath who was always got down to business quickly, calling him to the meeting place and giving him access permits as an Eldian.
"If only." Reiner mumbled quietly, throwing his bag over his shoulder.
He turned the page to the back, boarding the plane before taking out the coloured chalk he had and rubbing it over the page.
Magath always tended to leave a more serious message addressed to the individual personally, still always to the point.
The war overseas is out of our hands. Here at the frontier, neither side has managed to gain ground in the trenches. We have been digging tunnels beneath the earth but they keep collapsing. Pieck and Galliard shall continue the dig, Zeke will be brought back to defend the cities on the east coast. Braun, you will spearhead another assault at the frontier.
'Another huh…' He had read the reports of the ludicrous, suicidal charges that the two sides were making at each other across the trenches.
One side would advance, be shot down and then it would be the other's turn.
Both militaries had been trying to silence deserters but the news had gotten out and were demanding a victory at last.
Marley was going to make use of it's shield and the Mid-East Alliance would have their anti-Titan artillery ready.
The longer the stalemate continued on the land, the more would it tire out both nations.
And that in turn would affect the real battle of the world that would come after.
1058 Years Before Modern Eldian Calender
In the 'Eternal City', now the new dominion of the Eldian empire, a great gathering of scholars and inventors had been brought to assembly.
The senate house used by Marley's congress had been overrun with various sculptures and literature which had been salvaged from the now wrecked libraries of the defeated nation.
The 6th Founding Titan stood before the podium, raised above all the over chairs. The people gathered here were nervous before the Eldian emperor who they had heard stories of the monster in flesh.
They feared the rumours but had still responded to his summons, acknowledging his power. 'As they should,' he thought, intending to be held with the utmost reveration.
He had gathered the foremost professors and finest academics into one room, people of various races welcomed without being Eldian. Many had been living within the Eternal City under the Marleyians rule whilst others came from over the sea from other regions of the continent that Marley had conquered.
It had been curious to learn of their travels from his agents, hearing of how the Marley's own gods had been taken from another culture, with their own ties further before antiquity, who conquered them in turn, from a land called Hellas.
The Hellenes were a loose alliance of city states, whom were said to have come from the south along with Marley where their ancestral pre-civilizations had clashed, ending in a victory for the larger Hellenes force after burning the great city walls of Marley's predecessor.
They had likewise expanded along the coast, dominating more of the western coast of the great continent whilst Marley had grown out from the east side.
But all of that was coming to an end.
The Eldian empire was the new superpower of the land.
There was no weapon, no army that could match against the power of the Titan.
Checking himself over, he glanced to the woman at his side, his newly appointed cupbearer. The former Marleyian princess nodded to him with a small smile that didn't reach her eyes.
She moved forward to stand beside the podium.
"All rise for his eminence, Great Emperor of the Earth, Germanicus Fritz." She declared out to them. All the men present raised themselves immediately before some gave a deep bow, cladding an arm over their gifted togas, before they all followed suit.
The blonde Marleyian turned to her side, bowing softly whilst gesturing to him.
Taking a moment to breath it all in, he hid his enjoyment whilst looking over all the individuals of renown gathered here, keeping their bows low before him.
His whole mind was put at ease with delight from watching them all wait. The whole room was packed full with 500 individuals brought permitted entry.
"Please, do not stand on ceremony," the Eldian emperor lowered his hand to seat them all. He opened his mouth to address them all once they all were seated, paying close attention to him, before reconsidering.
His hands brushed over the rail before he turned aside and descended down the stairs, feeling all his eyes upon him. He had an Eldian guard present, all now wearing the armour of Marley's centurions.
What they also were not aware of, was the presence of another Titan.
The Titan of Simia, the one who had the unusual form that took the image of an ape or other jungle simian.
Glancing over the only present Eldian amongst the gathering, he strolled all along the front of the men, on the same floor they were. The family who held the Titan of Simia happened to be scholars themselves and so had invited the head of the family along too.
"… As you all know, our Eldian empire has those who can turn into Gods," he stated it as fact. He felt those close to him in the front row shudder from the proximity. "The so-called gods of the lands Marley preached to and others begged for help… where were they?"
Nobody dared to make a response.
"Your petty Gods are fake." He smirked, sensing a few that wished to make objections."They didn't come to save this city, they didn't come to save Marley, they didn't come to save any of your people."
His eyes glanced to the former Marleyian princess, who stood uncaring. For someone of royalty, she had been the one who openly made such conversation to him first.
"Your Gods will not come to save you in the future." The emperor paused, "and so too, did our Eldian tribe misunderstand our own heavenly lords until this century."
Quiet murmurs broke out between a few acquaintances.
"Whatever mistakes were made, the past no longer matters. It is this era, blessed by the miracles of Ymir, that the power of the true Gods, the Titans of yore, have been bestowed to the descendants of the Progenitor." Spreading out his arms, his voice carried out through the hall, across the whole palace. "You have the honour to be called before the great King of Titans. BEHOLD -!"
He drew a blade from his side, alarming the people before boasting confidently and sliding his hand across the edge.
His blood trailed over it and the people shielded their eyes from the light, jumping up in fright.
He had already envisioned and commanded the Founder on what she would create next.
The strength drained from his body and the markings burned under his eyes before a great tree appeared, made out of the Titan hardening crystal.
Surging up until it reached the ceiling, it spread out just like a tree, the roots on the floor where the 6th Founding Titan had just been standing.
Their eyes were peeled open, seeing they were all safe.
Germanicus's arm was wedged into the side of the trunk, his other hand still holding the sword before he pulled it out with a crack, soft tissues evaporating from his eyes quickly.
The old Marleyian senate now with 500 onlookers, become the centre of the king's new display.
Slowly they all returned to their seats, their wonder overcoming any worries.
"Do any of you comprehend what you just witnessed?" The emperor stood before them again.
Nobody answered again, although they all had a similar impression.
"It is the power of God, the power of the Titans." He turned his back to drop the sword on an altar. "Can anyone of you, so bespoken scholars of the age, provide an explanation to how this power works?"
There could not be anyone who could answer. The only other Titan within the room, was promptly examining his own hand, lost in his own thoughts.
"What a pity. But perhaps that is understandable too." Germanicus Fritz opened his arm again. "The power of the Titans is not understood fully yet, not even by those who have inherited the power. That is the truth. That is why you have all been gathered here today."
It had been a surprisingly fast process before many of these had flocked here, in hopes of witnessing the tales that were spreading overland.
"Those that pledge their servitude to the Eldian empire will be welcomed into my personal administration. Your lives and those of your family name shall be established within this Eternal City of Eldia, you shall be granted the same lives as those of Eldia." He promised to them all. The highest lifestyle they could have, right here in the grandest city on earth. "You shall devote your livelihood to answer my will and present to me the key to expanding this power gifted by the Gods."
It didn't take long to rebuild excitement as cheers spread through the crowd.
"All of you who wish to work in the name of Germanicus Fritz, come forth and pledge yourself." He stiffened for a moment, feeling a burn on his hand. "Provide me with the answers I seek, and you shall be even more richly rewarded!"
Deciding to cut himself short, he walked away before gesturing to his council that took over, asking all of them to sign their names and make the oath. His guards were ready and watching anyone that left, already given orders to execute those who had just been hidden, listening in on the information.
"My lord…" The Marleyian woman rushed towards him.
She took one look at the red trail on his hand that still remained before wrapping a cloth over it.
He glared at his slowly healing hand. The steam that was emitted was much slower than it had been a few years ago.
Especially compared to the other 8 Titan houses, he had observed the same thing in his father. Those of the royal blood of Ymir seemed to age faster.
Perhaps it was the burden of the strongest, but it seemed completely the wrong way round to him.
Sometimes rather than healing him like the divine god's touch he had been promised… the process seemed much too natural.
Just like his wounds closed and his scars faded from the fire, even though it was something his own father and predecessor had caused upon him, his body seemed to take the toll.
Every time since then, just like an immortal, his cuts would always heal and his blood would restore.
Unlike an immortal, the effect only worsened his condition gradually, naturally…
Instead of a healing effect, the Titan power only seemed to fasten the natural recovery speed, or simply caused his body to age faster.
The over 30 year old man's wrinkled hand was far worse than most commoner's at an older age.
He clenched it into a weak fist whilst struggling to find a solution.
A way to make his body young again…
… Was that possible with the ability of the Founder?
The 6th Founding Titan grit his teeth in determination. 'Young or not, by my name, I shall not be overshadowed by any for all the annals of eternity.'
Many scenes cut short again which I had wished to continue for longer, especially for Reiner by this point I feel I've missed out a lot of his personal thoughts I wished to express in the past few chapters and wanted to make the whole Survey Corps 'examination' a bigger thing too but alas, in the interest of keeping things going as prior!
Also did hope to bring Yelena in this chapter since the meeting has been a much needed priority but that's next chapter hopefully (maybe) and also had intended to bring Floch in by this point but yeah, going to speed up the passage of time here a bit more before slowing down again.
"Two letters this time Mr Kruger?" The warrior trainee inquired curiously, taking the envelopes in his hands. It had always been a single letter each time until now.
"Yes… An old acquaintance of mine," the wounded soldier looked up to the tree, it's spring leaves slowly sprouting. "Perhaps they might like to meet before it's too late."
The boy nodded slowly before asking, "… Do you think the war will reach even here?"
In the last war, Liberio had managed to remain unscathed at least.
The capital of Marley had never seen any fighting since over a century ago during the fall of the Eldian empire.
"… I fear so… I fear the next war may touch all corners of the world," the wounded soldier answered honestly.
"… Everywhere?" The boy trembled at the scale. He had only seen one battle in the last war. One battle out of hundreds all across the world, in every continent.
The vast world with nowhere to hide from war anymore.
That was the scale of the prospect with the power that was being challenged.
"Perhaps… but even if it were so," he had pledged himself to prevent it, vowed in resolution of what he hoped to achieve. "Even in such a time, the world will always continue to heal and change."