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Thread: Caged No More (Shingeki no Kyojin / Attack on Titan)

  1. #1
    Dead Apostle Eater Historia's Avatar
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    Caged No More (Shingeki no Kyojin / Attack on Titan)

    Posting this here because it's my largest fan story endeavour yet, and it'd be a shame not to share it to a wider audiences due to the effort put into it. You may also find it on AO3 and SpaceBattles.

    Archive of Our Own



    Ymir is a born again, haunted by the memories of the boy she killed and the past life she once lived. In order to put her mind to rest she must uncover the truth behind her past, even if it means reliving it once, twice, three times more. Along the way she meets a girl who craves to be special; something that her father couldn't be and so much more. This girl's name is Historia, and though the two of them are often at odds their fates are intertwined, both inheritors of a legacy that was too much for one goddess alone to bear.

    The Year is 845.

    This is the year that a girl reawakens, another fights back, and a third, a harsh mistress, is born.

    This is the story of those who are caged no more.

    Part 1 Point of View Characters

    Other Characters
    Mathias Kramer - scion of the Kramer Merchant Association
    Rita Iglehaut - member of the Garrison, West Division (Quinta)
    Ada (original character) - survivor outside the Walls
    Kelly - leader of the survivors outside the Walls
    Amanda - member of the Garrison, West Division (Quinta); Rita's best friend
    Klaus - member of the outlaws
    Nikki - member of the outlaws
    Jörg Kramer - Mathias's father; head of the Kramer Merchant Association
    Isolde Lenz (original character) - farmer; Riecka's mother
    "Baggy-pants" Leon - member of the Garrison, West Division (Fuerth)
    Kenny Ackerman - member of the Military Police Brigade
    Doris Iglehaut - Rita's adoptive mother
    Henning Iglehaut - Rita's adoptive father
    Ducio - member of the Garrison Regiment, West Division (Quinta); Rita's assistant
    Wilco - member of the Garrison Regiment, West Division (Quinta)
    Bernhardt - leader of the outlaws
    Jarratt - member of the outlaws
    Gabriel - agent of the Royal Government
    Erhardt - member of the Military Police Brigade


    Attack on Titan written and illustrated by Isayama Hajime.
    Attack on Titan: No Regrets written by Gun Snark and illustrated by Suruga Hikaru.
    Attack on Titan: Before the Fall written by Suzukaze Ryō and illustrated by Shibamoto Thores.
    Attack on Titan: Harsh Mistress of the City written by Kawakami Ryō and illustrated by Murata Range.
    Attack on Titan: Lost Girls written by Seko Hiroshi and illustrated by Fuji Ryosuke.
    Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom (video game) based on the manga written and illustrated by Isayama Hajime.
    Attack on Titan Guidebook: INSIDE & OUTSIDE based on the manga written and illustrated by Isayama Hajime.
    Attack on Titan Choose Your Path Adventure: Last Stand At Wall Rose written by Fujinami Tomoyuki and illustrated by Fuji Ryosuke and Yoshii Tetsu based on the manga written and illustrated by Isayama Hajime.
    Attack on Titan: End of the World written by Asakura Touji based on the manga written and illustrated by Isayama Hajime.
    Garrison Girl: An Attack on Titan Novel written by Rachel Aaron based on the manga written and illustrated by Isayama Hajime.

    Sources (Doujinshi)

    A Distant Fragrance written and illustrated by Tokawa.
    MESSENGER written and illustrated by Tomo.
    Story of the Goddess Who Sought Death written and illustrated by Kuzumochi Shio.
    Night at the Hut in the Mountain (and other shorts) written and illustrated by tbtbii.
    Song of Prayer Dedicated to You written and illustrated by Poncho.
    Last edited by Historia; September 4th, 2020 at 06:01 AM.

  2. #2
    Dead Apostle Eater Historia's Avatar
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    Prologue 1

    The sun has fallen, and with it comes the sky.

    The year is 845.

    This is the year that a girl reawakens, another fights back, and a third, a harsh mistress, is born.

    This is the story of those who are caged no more, in a time lost to the pages of history, in lands where the recent emergence of science outweighed a centuries’ long reign of the enigma of faith, war was the one and only constant; endless and without pause. Once divided groups became united kingdoms, and these united kingdoms swelled into vast nations as they kept vying for more, expanding upon their once god-granted rights under new banners and new truths and new powers but the same beliefs, the same rivalries, the same hatreds, the same divisions, and the same accusations and affronts, turning once lush and lively regions to desolate barren wastes where no life would ever grow again; poisoning the land further with the even more destructive seeds of metal and machinery. For those caught in the middle, their citizens, their subjects, were forced to live in fear, forced to flee in terror, and it was when an entire village seemingly vanished overnight without so much as a trace, a faint whisper of dark deeds done on a dark night, leaving one meek, insignificant, but wrathful child as its only survivor, that this changed forever.

    Alone and forced to fend for herself, after a lifetime spent in ruined and war-torn lands and much hardship, this child blossomed into a woman who united these lands with a mysterious power and became a mighty ruler. This woman was named Ymir Fritz, and unlike those before her, she ruled benevolently, with her mind close to her heart, ever beating in favor of those less fortunate, of those less able to pull themselves from the tragedy of war; ever bleeding for those who sought to continue the tyranny of the past, the disappearance of hopes and dreams for so much as to fill their chests and stomachs with greed.

    She spent a long time rebuilding these lands in her image; thirteen grueling years of using a gift many perceived as a curse, a black murmur of the past back to punish the world that had abandoned it, passed before all was peaceful, all was quiet, all was calm, until she was usurped — murdered in her sleep when her eyes were shut — and her body disemboweled and decapitated and her mysterious power split nine as these lands were plunged into a great war that lasted a lifetime longer than she herself had lived. Its victors rewrote history, the defeated ousted, butchered, and enslaved as these lands came back under the thumb of oppression and savagery until history dared repeat itself again. Another rebellion, another great war, colossal, violent, and more devastating than the last; another beheading, a new victor, the shackling of the old, and, in the midst of this all, the child that was reborn.

    But, the world… the world was unforgiving.

    Its wounds never healed and the scars tarnishing its surface left it puckered and sore with horrendous, atrocities galore.

    The child was taken, growing up beaten and bruised, then sacrificed for the greater good before her rule truly had a chance to begin.

    The year is 845, and the world is still cruel. These lands were still recovering, but there were whispers of another, third great war.

    Humanity has been beset by monsters known as Titans for a hundred years. A seemingly endless tide of giant, humanoid devourers that managed to wipe out all life save for a lucky few, and nobody knew where they originated from, what their purpose was, and, most important, most dire, how to effectively end them once and for all. So, in desperation, these lucky few shut themselves behind three fifty meter high walls for their own protection, thinking themselves safe. Only, they were being kept in the dark, gathered like cattle in cages for the inevitable until, one day, one red-colored, quiet, unassuming morning after dawn, this all changed when they were given a grim reminder of what it meant to be locked away.

    And, in the midst of it, a child is reborn.

    This child is named Ymir.

    Haunted by the memories of the boy she killed and the past life she once lived, all she remembers is the blood, tissue, and bone. All she remembers is the torment of the mindless. All she remembers is the face that haunts, the face that always reminds her of the cruelty of the world. That it always has been and that it always will be; that it should always be held in a certain light, and that she was never meant to be born, molding herself as someone who was nothing, who thought herself worthless. Crimson nightmares, bringing death. The world was her enemy, her string, and her fate. For she was a causality and it resented and cursed her as it always would. In order to put her mind to rest she must uncover the truth behind her past, even if it means reliving it once, twice, three times more. Along the way she meets a girl who craves to be special; something that her father couldn't be and so much more. This girl's name is Historia, and though the two of them are often at odds their fates are intertwined, both inheritors of a legacy that was too much for one goddess alone to bear. But she wants nothing to do with this other girl.

    So, the girl runs away from her fate. And the world, in retaliation, in retribution, started its end, but, the child, the girl, Ymir, she keeps running, and running, and...

    Last edited by Historia; January 21st, 2022 at 02:51 AM.

  3. #3
    Dead Apostle Eater Historia's Avatar
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    Prologue 2

    It was a morning just like any other.

    Per routine, Mia was up early as she liked to take Bear out for a long walk before Shiganshina began its day, lazing on the Titan’s Toe, the highest point outside the District which overlooked the entire town, its surrounding farms, dazzling green pastures, the river dividing them all, and held a complete view of Wall Maria, stretching endlessly around the perimeter both ways. Despite the splendor view, very few people went near it. The smallest mountain within the Walls, ranging from lowest to highest the deeper you went towards the Interior, it was also one of the more treacherous, or so she heard from other climbing enthusiasts she’d met on occasion on her treks up it — she’d never been any distance greater past this mountain, which was close enough to Shiganshina she could scale it and be back in only a couple of hours — thanks to the uneven climb in order to reach its top, but Mia enjoyed the challenge. Not to mention the cold, how difficult that further made it, meaning even fewer people than normal would attempt the climb, especially with winter ending and the rains to come, but though she might be a fisherman’s daughter she wasn’t an idiot. She wore layers and knew how to keep her temperature warm. And the less people the better it was for her to relax and dream, with Bear curled beside her.

    Mia dreamed a lot.

    Like leaving this town for better.

    For a cushy life in the Interior like her mama, except she would take Bear with her because she’d promised to take good care of him.

    Because it was only fair, seeing how her papa done so much to raise her by himself. She’d take her papa with them too, if only he hasn’t so stubborn in trying to stay, and by the time they made it back to the outer gate the day was still young.

    Thankfully Brigitte only gave her a light scolding this time around, so she was able to settle on her bed, little more than a threadbare mat, with enough time to spare on the finishing touches to the wind up timer she’d been working the entire week on, whenever she had it in between helping out her papa with his fishing or running his stall, learning from Mr. Arlert or watching his son so Mrs. Arlert could have a rest, all of which was necessary if she wanted that dream to come true. If she completed this final task, then she’d finally secure her apprenticeship, and leave Shiganshina.

    Sitting cross legged upon the floor, Mia reaching over and blew on her lamp, then lit it and pulled out the wind up timer from its hidden space near her bedside along with her tools from the shop Mr. Arlert allowed her to borrow.

    As she suspected, the mainspring had broken after all, and so she took a deep breath as she carefully operated the tweezers to remove it, making extra sure not to apply too much stress on any other part of the machinery when she went to install the new one, and, after confirming everything sat normal, did she wound it and observe the motion of the hand with satisfaction painted across her features in the lamplight because she’d fixed it.

    And just in time, too, because she could hear the familiar sounds of the town as it woke, ready for the day.

    Wishing her papa luck with his fishing, the marketplace during the start of the day was bustling and loud and altogether too overwhelming for Mia’s tastes as she cradled the timer against her chest in the crowd on her way towards Mr. Arlert’s storefront in the middle.

    Following the usual flow of the people downtown, she could hear the fruit vendors making their beginning sales pitches, the tool shops shouting their advertisements, fragments of price negotiations as one of them managed to nab their first customer of the day and what was to hopefully be many more to come. Folks weaved through one another, going about their individual tasks in the usual congestion and tumult of this poor, but lively, outermost District within the Walls.

    Passing by girls in long, colorful dresses that’d always laughed at her shabby garb or her messily cut hair, as if delighting in her poverty would do anything to bring their merchant papas home, these girls, with their shiny hair and wicked smiles, had never held Mia’s respect and especially not today as she paid them no mind, continuing on her way with this thing that was certain to get her that apprenticeship.

    Mr. Arlert was an inventor; a learned man from the Interior, the Industrial City to be exact, who’d willingly given up his old life to help those in the Exterior, and from whom had promised to take her on as an apprentice and hopefully grander opportunities if she was diligent and responsible and above all loved the profession as much as he did, which she now could confidently say she had these qualities, and was well on her way to delivering her proof, if not for Edelle, the curly haired spinster who ran the stall opposite her papa, who was his undeclared rival and used her silver tongue to lure away all his customers, making she and her papa’s life life all the harder.

    Though she was already ruthlessly at work trying to make a sale to a group of hooded travelers, musicians from down the Wall, from Fuerth, by the looks of their fancy instruments, the crone still gave her a barbed lash of a greeting upon seeing her despite being toothless, patting her across the backside while asking where her papa was soon as she rushed by.

    “This young lass here knows more about fish than I do! Unlike her pa!” Edelle croaked, her parting words being that she could always use the help if she got tired of her papa.

    “Not gonna happen, ya hear!” Mia shouted back, Bear giving an excited yelp in agreement as they melted back into the crowd and she eventually came upon the storefront of Mr. Arlert’s shop where he was also busy making a sale: a priest in need of someone to repair his pocket watch.

    In and of itself a symbol of the affluent, the priest himself seemed awfully tense. Getting closer, she caught him saying it was for an important affair in a few hours, and that he absolutely had to have it before then. From his simple, yet clean-kept earthen brown and red robes, he was one of those religious missionaries from the Inner Districts. In other words, a Wall Cultist. Not much liked around these parts because of bad blood between them and the town, an incident decades prior when, supposedly, they’d tried to open the inner and outer gates to usher in the Titans that’d been thwarted by the Scouting Legio, it were no wonder he was looking every which way in apprehension: he feared he might lose that balding head atop his shoulders! He must’ve heard the tale, well-known. But Mia knew that Wall Cultists and Titan Worshipers were different peoples, and that incident was only a stretch of the truth, at best. Something to scare naughty kids with things like “they’ll snatch ya up if ya keep misbehavin’!” and “they’ll fed ya straight to a Titan! Throw yer little behind right over them Walls!” which did have its effect, but as with all stories told when they’re young, kids learned and kids changed, and Mia herself could see that this man wasn’t one of those weirdos who drank baby’s blood to appease their Titan lords, just an anxious man with little patience as he made his final demands in a huff before leaving, almost knocking her over in his haste to get wherever he was off to. This prompted Bear to growl, canines gleaming in the sun as the man quaked, scurrying off despite her best intention to holler after in apology.

    She attempted to discipline Bear over the matter, though if the big dog felt bad about it himself, he was too preoccupied licking his lower bits to really care, and so she gave up.

    Upon her arrival, Mr. Arlert thoughtfully put the priest’s pocket watch on his desk and smile broadly behind his thick mustache and round face.

    He cleared a spot for her on the desk to show off the completed timer.

    “Done already, I see! Well, let’s have a l—” Gesturing to the timer now displayed on the table, his next words were drowned out by Bear’s insistent barking and he immediately knew what to do as he pulled forth a tasty morsel from his oil-stained linen apron and tossed it. Bear happily chased it, bumbling further toward the back of the shop, allowing Mr. Arlert to finish what he was saying. “You fixed it, alright!” he said, inspecting the inner workings of the machine with an expert eye and deft hand, having it open and halfway dismantled by the time Bear came back, lavishing over his treat for the day.

    Mia was in awe watching him work, and it hadn’t even crossed her mind to look at the piece of paper he produced from his person, as her world up in the clouds gradually settled back down to reality with quill in hand. She knew what it was, shouldn’t have had to see it to believe it, but her papa taught her otherwise, and so it was only after she was finished sorta-kinda reading it because she couldn’t quite read well at all though Mr. and Mrs. Arlert were trying their best as teachers, did Mia proudly signed her initials on the dotted line while her new mentor nodded his approval and his wife, Mrs. Arlert, hugged her in kind, having appeared from the back.

    “Congratulations, Mia! Welcome to the family!” she sang, her dirty complexion from working the same work her husband did not able to mar the glowing support across her warm face.

    “Best to tell your father the good news!” Mr. Arlert said.

    Mia beamed. “Oh! I will! Right away, sir! Come on, Bear!”

    Hurrying back home, her apprenticeship sealed, she could finally start her journey toward getting them out of this town and onto a richer road!

    Her papa waved her over, a tired smile on his lips and a rope held taut in his hands. The other fishermen, accustomed to seeing her around, all greeted her warmly. “You’re back early today,” he said knowingly as she approached. “Old Edelle give ya trouble, or did ya give it to her?” Though both of them knew this wasn’t about Edelle, and so she replied with the good news, holding out her hand to grab the rope from him as he laughed, the skin around his eyes crinkling. “’Course I knew ya’d get it! Nobody lives in the Walls can work harder than we Shiganshina folk can!”

    Her papa was born and raised here, and would never leave. She knew that her dream of them all leaving together was just that, a dream, and couldn’t help but think this was the last time she’d ever see him again, right as he was handing her the rope and Bear’s barking began anew.

    “Hey! What are ya—” Mia’s words were cut off by the abruptness of a darkness which cloaked the sky. Almost as if the sun had fallen, and there was this strange, cloying humidity that drifted down from above as she looked up as if she’d been thrown into one of her dreams, seeing this mist and clouds of dust as something rose from within it: a finger.

    And perhaps she might’ve thought she were still dreaming, that she were still lying atop the mountain, alone, asleep, comforted, if not for the fact that others surely saw it, too, craning their necks until their muscles were sore.

    Nobody wanted to say it, even as a hand came into view, and with its every movement pieces of the wall crumbled and crashed around them as it rose higher still and this dark silhouette higher than the Wall itself moved slowly, eerily, almost as if it were teasing them. And still nobody wanted to say it for what it was as it was nigh unthinkable.

    She looked to her papa, seeing the terror in his eyes.

    Growing up, she’d always seen her papa as someone who would always be there to protect because no matter what happened, because he was her papa.

    That was what she’d thought, before a deafening roar thundered from the other side of the Wall like the world was breaking, and lingering in this boiling hot mist peering over the fifty-meter tall wall was this hideous face, skinless and covered in red, sinewy, muscle-like flesh, the surface of which pulsed and spewed white vapor, like steam, its expression savage; fiercely, utterly, enraged.

    Then the world changed forever as the outer gate was smashed inward, and a boulder larger than a house came out of nowhere to strike her papa, flattening him and turning her world the most brilliant and horrifying red Mia had ever seen in her sixteen years of existence upon this earth.

    A morning just like any other, and how she wished it were just a dream; that at any moment she might walk up, as one of the other fisherman grabbed her arm to pull her away, that they had to run, but all she could do was stare wide-eyed at the stain upon the ground that’d once been her papa, still thinking to herself that she was going to leave this town for better; what might very well be her last.

    For the Titans had come, and there was nowhere to hide.
    Last edited by Historia; January 21st, 2022 at 02:53 AM.

  4. #4
    Dead Apostle Eater Historia's Avatar
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    Chapter 1


    Running, running, and running away.

    In her dream, the boy was running.

    Running further and further away.

    Even when he knew it was futile and questions raced through his mind seeking answers he’d no time to find as the monster’s powerful, clawed feet broke apart the earth in its pursuit not far behind, gaining in its elongated strides.

    Questions such as why he hadn’t anticipated the possibility. That they should’ve kept their voices low and thrust their personal feelings aside. Shouldn’t have brought them up to begin with. What he could’ve said differently instead of telling the others to run as fast as they could.

    Not that any of this mattered now.

    Using the last of his strength to keep his head high, watching them go, for all their training, for all their preparations, what could ever have prepared them for something like this? Despite everything, all he could do was listen and wait as they fled and he remained, hoping he might give them more time even if for only a short while longer, as the monster got closer and closer and closer still. Until its hunched, misshapen form loomed over him, its shadow stretching so far and wide he saw only darkness whichever way he looked and so chose to turn and face his impending demise because again what did it matter? He’d succeeded, they were far in the distance and still running.

    Flowing from its mouth open only a crack was a fetor so foul that he almost fainted, yet he met the Titan in its black eyes, his final thought that he’d done the best he could given the situation when its rotten, hot breath rolled down his body, its mouth widening, brandishing pointed teeth each thick and tall as himself, his eyes watering when it chortled then pulled away and there was one moment of respite — one, surreal second of quiet, his fear abated — before something, something sharp, hooked itself around him and hoisted him high into the air. Its clawed hand cutting into his sides, he grimaced.

    Upon there he dangled, able to glimpse a last look at the others as small black dots on a sea of greens before the monster’s hold tightened and squeezed into his spine and he cried out in anguish as that second of quiet became an eternity of pain when its teeth sank into his legs and chewed up his waist, pulling out his insides.

    Indescribable, unthinkable pain, as he vomited and spat and coughed bile and blood, the juices spilling down his chin onto his chest as upward still its hunger moved and his ribs were crushed, his lungs skewered, his heart pounding.

    Gasping for air while he tried to suck in more, his head felt ready to explode, the whites of his eyes filling up, popping out their sockets until finally bursting red and he let out a scream that died in his throat as the world, his world, became dark, his last light being of his little brother, taking his last comfort in the knowledge that he was spared such a fate as this.

    Letting out that scream in full, frightened awake, the girl slammed the back of her head into the tree she'd been nodding off against and slid, grabbing hold of its trunk lest she fall, having taken refuge on its highest branch she dared climb shortly after finding herself once again lost in another forest of these giant trees.

    Righting her footing, and exhaling in relief, the girl pulled her tattered blanket closer around her shoulders and put one of her trembling, frost-touched hands behind her head and winced at the knots of matted, wet hair she could barely see when she came away with hot blood upon her cold fingers.

    Invisible black strands slipped between her fingertips. The girl stared after them until they were lost to the all but perpetual darkness which enveloped her, ever wary of what lurked below as she then mistook her stomach for something else.

    This time the girl nearly fell from her perch before catching herself in the last moment, dangling by her hands feeling shivering drops of rain from the leaves overhead hitting her face as she looked over, groping in the dark aimlessly before breaking off a nearby branch with a foot outstretched; kicking it until it snapped.

    Letting it tumble down, she hoisted herself back up and listened because sound was the only way to be certain it was safe, and after waiting a time and hearing nothing, those wolves that’d chased her must’ve finally left and it was only then did the girl start her careful descent.

    She shimmied down the trunk of the tree slowly, using any branches and hold fasts between the bark where she was able. That is, until when she was little more than halfway down and a sudden, sharp pain split through her skull and her vision filled with blinding shades of red and next she knew she was flat on the ground where it was muddy and damp and sodden from the cold and, though the remainder of the way down had been softened by the branches and leaves of the giant tree, her back hurt all the same.

    Lying there, these scarlet flashes of pain were memories. Recent memories. Of the monster in her mind. Of the boy’s own, never ending pain. Ones she continuously shoved back down, fighting the urge, the hunger, the want for blood that once licked her tongue, clenching her teeth and forcing herself upright because this boy from her dreams was dead and she wasn’t. Not yet.

    His name had been Marcel.

    And he was dead.

    Her name was Ymir.

    And she didn’t want to go back to the way she was. What she was. Couldn’t be that way again, as she let her thoughts of him fade and there she was again, alone and unashamed and swollen and sore.

    Ymir. That was her name.

    And she was alive.

    Thus, she picked herself off the ground, mud caking her still aching body as she turned away from the tree because she had to keep moving if she wanted to keep on living and ventured forward, continuing to wander this forest of giant trees, holding those memories at bay until she couldn't walk anymore and heaved, bending over, knees in the mud. Harsh, ragged gasps of cold night air, spittle drooling from her mouth, clinging to her skin, and nothing more, as, with them, came the monster and its hunger and those horrors creeping their way back inside her mind despite her fortitude.

    Like the wolves she'd had to fend against, roused from their black slumbers, circling her and closing in, bright yellow eyes in the dark, these memories were waiting for the perfect moment to devour her, too. Same as she’d done the boy; only by dragging her down instead. Sink their teeth into her flesh, biting and tearing and snapping. To bring her back into the fold, into the nightmare, and consume her whole. Clawing her body, carving her bones, craving her blood, until, gradually, gradually, naught remained.

    She heaved again and collapsed. Her vomit seeped into her, soaking into the patches of snow around her where she curled in a fetal position as those memories began anew. She buried her face in her hands, as if doing so would make them go away, but the memories were still there, and she chuckled to herself, at her own naivety, wiping her mouth with the flat of her hand as she tried to rise to her feet again because of course they wouldn’t simply go away; seared and branded into her brain forever.

    Memories of the boy, Marcel, and the terrified look on his face above her head as her jaws opened and closed down, tasting of his blood and savoring the crunch of his bones. Memories of after, when she woke up. When she saw his remains against the smoke billowing toward that crimson sky, and the trail she followed to a scene of even greater carnage: that great wall, broken, and that town thereafter, burning, and the utter silence, which awaited beyond. Memories of these things, these monsters — no, not the wolves, something far worse — following her everywhere she went, giving her little time to rest and recuperate or make sense of it all.

    And still lying in her own puke, like a babe borne again, searching for stars that weren’t there, Ymir thought she heard one of the wolves that’d been chasing her approach and she pushed herself up to run though her legs screamed no more because she didn't want to die again, not yet, except despite her resolve she couldn’t and shut her eyes because that was it, this was the end, only… nothing happened.

    And then the wolf tried to speak.

    Infantile attempts at communicating its thoughts into one word, chanting it over and over and over again until she didn't want to hear it anymore and came face to face with the boy forever pained, Marcel, whose sacrifice allowed her the mercy of being freed from a very long nightmare, instead.

    His body was broken, spine twisted so he walked on all fours, his intestines dangling and feet dragging across the ground. He walked with his hands, holding himself up and wading along. The back of his shirt was torn, skin shredded and viscera exposed. He leaned further left than right, his right arm not much but loose sinew and bone. His black hair was spread out in patches atop his peeled head, his crimson skull visible beneath the fleshy flaps hanging down. His neck was partially ripped open. What remained of his jaw hung low. His mouth was snapped wide with a drooping tongue. The only thing wholly intact was the upper half of his face, barring the bottom of his nose.

    Relief washed over her, then, because she knew he wasn’t real; knew that he was guilt personified, molded from memory and nothing else and wouldn’t be her demise. Though she also knew that lingering here staring at him any longer would be. So, she took a moment to compose herself before she kept moving, trying her best to ignore the thing following her every step thereafter as she went. Except, no matter how far she went, the land seemed endlessly empty — every place she came upon was deserted.

    While there were signs that people once lived in these places, these villages, definitely until very recently, if not for the fact of her scavenging them for leftover food and clothing, the girl might’ve thought herself to truly be alone.

    Herself, and her hallucinations.

    And the farther she traveled the riskier it became, as well, for dotting the land also were these forests of giant trees in abundance and she didn’t linger any near them than she had to, like now, avoiding them entirely whenever she could because of the sounds from therein. In the day, it was the grunts and groans and earth-stomping feet of those mindless monsters she never wanted to become again. During the night, it was the howls and growls and struggle of wild animals that prowled around as these monsters slept. That’d stalked her all the way to that tree, and were scared off by the monsters before they, too, had left her alone in turn, and the cycle continued. These beasts which frightened her so that she’d mistaken the boy’s walking corpse for one.

    They were full of dangers and between them and the headaches, the accompanying pain that were this boy Marcel’s memories trying to tell her something, his last thoughts, his last screams, Ymir wasn’t so keen on revisiting those times so soon again.

    Not that it was up to her to decide.

    Glancing back at the boy, the only way to learn more about him rather than the dream of his death, his final moments, was the same as her own past. Of a certain battlefield from her past that she kept being returned to, mixed in with his, and a voice that guided her through it: to keep moving forward in search of something grand.

    The boy’s jaw swayed as he looked at her, his vocal cords closing and opening like an insect’s mandibles. No sound came out except one short higher-pitched, blood spurting wheeze, but she could hear his words in her head because his screams would never go away. He was a part of her, and as she replied to him, asked herself the question as she turned on her heels reluctantly, following him until she was at the precipice of yet another of these forests of giant trees after thinking she was free of them with the last: what purpose was she here? Why was she given a second chance, spirited away from the nightmare which had consumed all the mindless others like her? That this boy had to die so she may live again? She felt he was only the beginning in a long, estranged history that she, for now, couldn’t remember anything except that battlefield, guided by the voice of someone else.

    Of someone caring, and kind.

    Someone who told her that no matter how terrible things seemed she must keep moving. To follow this boy. This grotesque fragment of a bloody death. But, standing before this entrance to this giant forest in particular, its trees so enormous they seemed to touch the stars themselves, she hesitated. The trees appeared wicked. Ancient, twisted tawny tower-gates blocking passage to whatever secrets lay within and, peering beyond them, she saw only blackness.

    She felt her chest tighten, a rumble in her heart in anticipation at what might be waiting inside. She dare not risk it, but, again, something, someone, told her otherwise; that her past would only come to light if she plunged into the dark and dragged it out herself, kicking and screaming like a whining child. That she had to go forward, keep moving, ever onward, until the land disappeared beneath her feet and there was nowhere left to be.

    So, she listened, because she didn’t want to succumb to the nightmare again.

    And scratching and tearing herself on thorns trying to keep pace with the dead boy's surprisingly lithe form down, she came to something after a time: a structure in ruins within a grove surprisingly devoid of trees as if time ceased here and wouldn’t allow the wilds any further past the ring where the flowers grew. White flowers, with bright yellow centers. Beautiful, shimmering. But even their beauty couldn’t distract from this structure that’d been ravaged, raped, despoiled. Once a solace, it was now just a shell of whatever it’d used to be.

    Again, she was afraid of what potentially lay inside, lurking, and would’ve moved past it out of instinct, would’ve ignored the boy — just another hallucination in her mind, after all — and continue her wandering, if not for that voice — oh, that gentle, loving voice — beckoning her from that dark. Oh, how she would’ve!

    But it persuaded her otherwise.

    Intimidated, pressured, pushed, her on, even.

    That voice of someone caring and kind, turning vile and cruel, ordering her forward into that darkness, into that unknown, to brave the peril, swallow her dread, and conquer her own fears, shouting, screaming “keep moving, keep moving, keep moving!” so that soon her body was at its splintered doors, arms weakly pushing them open, blood rushing through her veins as her heart pounded in her ears. Thump. Thump. Thump. She had to keep moving, and forced her way in, tripping, tumbling on.

    Falling in a dusty heap, eyes to an open ceiling above, the moon’s light shone, helping her to see.

    Around her, nothing moved. Nothing stirred. Only silence reigned, and she turned to the boy, to Marcel, to ask why here, what was the purpose of leading her to this place, but he was gone. And the voice that spoke to her, remained quiet in kind.

    She was alone again. No, she thought, she’d always been alone.

    Eventually, she caught her breath and sat up on one of the old and rotten wooden pews lining either side of her, assessing even in her own awful state a lone podium flanked by two large statues at the front of the room. Behind them, was an altar, and slowly, but surely, she made her way towards it. Reaching it shortly thereafter, its worn and aged plaque, rusted and cracked, was surprisingly warm to the touch as small dark shapes began to appear when her focus narrowed. Knowing them to be letters, she stepped back and squinted and tried to sound out the word they formed. Though, she couldn’t, and looked up at the statues again. The depiction of what they were. What they were called, long abandoned, long forgotten, only, she couldn't, she couldn't... she was so very tired…

    Ymir doubled over beside the podium.

    It was hollow in the back.

    Scrunching herself into the void space, she put her knees up against her chest and rested her chin on top of her hands, an infant inside her mother’s pregnant womb once more, eyelids heavy for the first time in what felt like ages and it wasn’t long before she was fast asleep and the world, her world, became dark, her last thought and new light being that she’d been led here because her name was Ymir and maybe it was time for her to truly live.
    Last edited by Historia; January 21st, 2022 at 02:56 AM.

  5. #5
    Dead Apostle Eater Historia's Avatar
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    Feb 2015
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    Chapter 2

    For the first time in a hundred years, Wall Maria, the outermost wall and the first line in humanity’s defense against the monsters at their door, fell, a great many people perished, and today, four days after, the sole thought in Historia’s mind was that nothing mattered.

    That nothing ever had.

    That nothing was the one, singular absolute in the world. The end. The book shut. Curtains closed. That being nothing meant everything, and looking down at her bare feet dangling off the carriage, watching the blood seep between her toes on that night again, four days before, the moment her life was nothing from the very beginning was the very best in her entire thirteen years of existence.

    When, again, she saw those frightened eyes of her mother, with her pathetic attempts at struggling against the knife being drawn across her throat, slicing so deep it carved bone.

    When, again, she felt that warmth when it sprayed, rushing down her mother’s neck and drenching her clothes and soaking the ground beneath in crimson regrets, her final words cut short by her killer's blade.

    When, again, those final words, their intent clear, had been that one, defining absolute that set her mind at ease every time she recalled them in her head: that she was the bastard child who shouldn’t have been born.

    Now, gazing out at the farmland stretched out before her in all directions, far as her bright blue eyes could see, rows upon rows of stalks of wheat and barley and other grains swaying briskly in an evening breeze — territory within the confines of Wall Rose set aside for orphans in the unlikely event of Wall Maria’s fall — it meant that while her mother was little more than a whore, she herself who was nothing, meant everything. The only surviving daughter of her late father that she knew, an impoverished noble once of great repute born with a weak heart and but a drop to spare. A heart that’d finally run dry the day the Wall fell. Whose actions were entombed in her memory forever, the same as her mother’s death, with his last act being to shield her from harm and send her away with a few parting words, lest his legacy, his secret, die then and there.


    "Goin’ to sit there all day?" the man hired to move her from place to place that same night and at current — after one too many fights, after one too many bitten fingers and after one too many refusals to do what was what demanded, what was expected — had brought her to this place in the middle of nowhere, asked. Sweaty and reeking heavily of alcohol, he motioned her down. "This your stop. Come on, move it."

    She glared at him and didn’t budge.

    "I said move!" With a raised hand, he slapped her. Hard. Then, lifting her by a tuft of her blonde hair, he dragged her to the front of his carriage, behind the horses. "You'll learn one way or another." Taking a last swig of his bottle, he poured the few drops left down her throat and tossed it. “You’ll learn!”

    She spat it out. The man’s rough hand caressed up her thigh, and she thought of her father's words as he clumsily tried unlacing her undergarments, punching her in the stomach out of frustration when he couldn't quite do it and her eyes went to the bottle he'd tossed away. He then licked her cheek, attempting to grope her chest, his large hand awkwardly feeling around her neck and lower face instead. Thinking of her mother now, her small fingers deftly closed around the bottle, because she knew what those words meant: that she was more than nothing.

    Historia brought the bottle down as hard as she could on the side of the man’s head. It shattered into a dozen dazzling shards and she picked up one of the larger pieces and slashed his neck before he got the chance to react. He made his last sighs in gurgles, grasping where she’d left the shard buried deep in his throat as his body hit the dirt road a moment later.

    Staring at the body, she straightened her undergarments and inspected her hand.

    Blood ran along the crevices of her palm from a deep gash.

    It didn’t hurt.

    She wiped her hand on her dress and turned to the horses, then to the farm. She looked down at the man’s body again, back to the farm, then to the horses, and, managing to climb her way up onto the end of the carriage, crawled to the front and took the reins of both horses between slippery fingers. Unhooking the harnesses that bound them, she let them loose and watched them glance around in confusion, awkwardly sliding onto the nearest one’s back and leaning forward. She wrapped her arms around its neck.

    "Everything's going to be alright," she told it. "You're free now, so you can do whatever you want. You can go wherever you want." The other horse was already gone. "Your friend left you… you're all alone now…" Tears rolled down her cheeks. They tasted sweet. She tugged at its mane. "You're all alone with nowhere to go, but, you're free now so it doesn't matter. So go! Leave already!"

    The horse just flung its head forward, then back, and threw her off, but, when she raised herself up, didn't attempt to run away. Instead, its tail swishing this way and that, the horse simply trotted over to the side of the dirt road and began chewing some wheat.

    Historia laid her head back down, eyes on the drifting clouds above as she sobbed.

    From here on, she had to forget herself. Who, and what, she was. Her father's first, last, and only words to her.

    From here on, your name is Krista.

    The tears wouldn't stop.

    Because she was special.

    She named the horse Almond, after its color.

    Since leaving the farm, Historia had gone a far distance, retracing the trail the carriage took, reaching the edge of a small village by evening.

    She didn't recall them ever passing by it, but she hadn't exactly been paying attention to anything other than her own thoughts the entire time, either.

    Drawing nearer, she could hear the villagers up and about, working, toiling, slaving away. The thump and thud of hammers and nails on wood, the splashing of water and hoisting of buckets from wells, the flapping of clothes left out to dry, the shouts of children as they played and the laughter of the adults watching them; so unlike the stillness of the servant-tended ranch she was raised on, brimming with the hard work of everyday folk that was lost on someone like her, and so far removed from the shock that was Maria’s fall.

    Sliding from Almond's back, she led him over to a tree in the shade where he plopped down, exhausted. As she stroked his mane, now observing the villagers go about their daily tasks from afar again, something swelled in her chest that she’d only felt when her mother's blood splattered her cheek: warmth.

    So, leaving Almond to cool off, curiosity getting the better of her, Historia set her sights on one of the houses closest to her and furthest away from any equally curious eyes.

    She stooped under one of its back windows, checked the vicinity, and, judging it safe, peeked inside.

    Seeing a table set for evening supper, her stomach rumbled. She hadn't eaten decent in the past day and could smell the freshly baked bread from where she was hiding. Though, gulping, she moved away from the window because, regardless of how hungry she was, how safe she deemed it, lingering any longer was risky;specially if by some unlucky chance that man's body had been found, as the only thing between here and there was the plain, everyday, unassuming countryside. But, just as she was about to slip away, a slumping, groggy-eyed girl with long, red-brown hair came into view, and keeping against the window, Historia held her breath as the girl opened it further, yawned, grumbled to herself, then walked away. She waited until her feet pattering across the floor were distant, then started to creep back before something else happened. That was when she saw the girl leave out a door from the house, carrying a bucket.

    She gulped, again.

    That's right, she hadn't drank anything decent in the past few days, either. Her mouth was dry as a bone.

    She looked after the girl as she disappeared around a bend. It led into a forest, and though she thought of following her, there was already a well not far away with a bucket and rope set up.

    Approaching it, she glanced around again.


    Quickly, quietly, she pulled on the lever. The bucket dropped with a hollow thud and dark crash, and she peered down at it in splinters at the well's bottom. The well was empty, and realizing the noise it must’ve made, one of the villagers — that girl — probably heard it. She reared back. She had to get out of sight before someone ca—

    "Ouahf!" Too late.

    Bumping into someone, they cleared their throat, the rim of their hat blocking out not nearly enough of the sun, angled just right to blind her, preventing her from seeing clearly and making a fast get-away without stumbling.

    Historia found herself squinting up at old woman's wrinkled, sun-kissed face. "That one's no good," the old woman said with a slight hoarseness to her voice. "Better off comin’ inside and takin’ what I have stored there."

    Watching her go, Historia noticed that the old woman was heading straight for the same house that girl had come from and proceeded to panic. She turned to run, eyes down, the sun behind her, but the old woman called out, reaching her before she could. With a grip strong as iron, the old woman took her by the wrist and dragged her to the house.

    When they stepped inside, Historia glanced back to where Almond was.

    "Your horse is gonna be fine. I already gave him some water and an apple after you'd came sneakin’ over. Don't worry about him right now,” the old woman assured.

    The old woman led her to that same table she'd been eyeing earlier and sat her down, then went to a counter, poured a cup of water, and offered it to her.

    Taking the cup with her good hand, Historia hid the other under the table. She drank it with hesitation. The old woman didn’t seem to have any intentions of hurting her, or worse, though she could never be too careful, and when she was finished, the old woman gave a tilt of her chin at the concealed hand.

    "Let me see it."

    Historia laid it on the table, palm side down.

    "Flip it over."

    She realized that if the old woman wanted to hurt her, it’d have already happened, and did as told.

    Grabbing a cloth and a bottle of what could only be a strong alcohol because of its smell — Historia knew it well — the old woman firmly held her hand down. For all her strength, her harshness, she went over the smaller cuts and wiped away dirt and dried blood with extreme care, rubbing it in with a gentleness that was surprising before moving on to the gash.

    “Hold still.”

    Historia winced, biting her lip until she was done.

    As she began wrapping the cloth around it, the old woman sighed. "Young girls shouldn't behave so recklessly. I’m still makin’ today’s bread, but I’ve some leftover from yesterday. It's still safe to eat. Otherwise, it’ll be for the pigs and chickens."

    Historia watched her stand up and get some.

    "Why are you being so kind to me?" she immediately asked when the old woman brought it over and sat back down.

    "My own selfishness." The old woman wasn't hesitant and ruffled her hair gently. "My daughter, you resemble her..."

    "Your... daughter...?" Looking down at the table, she now noticed it was actually set for three, and then turned her attention over to the door.

    "No, not who you're thinkin’ of," the old woman said with a coarse, though sincere chuckle. After a moment, she continued. "My daughter is much older — joined the Scouts before all this.” She waved a hand about as if to say “madness”. Maria’s fall. “Hasn't been home since, the ungrateful child..." She chuckled again. “No, that one’s Achi. She's… been through a lot.” Reaching over and ruffling her hair again, the old woman gave her a smile. "And I know that you have, too. I can see it in that face you're makin’. Saw you comin’ down earlier, and figured ‘ah, here comes another one… ’ So… naturally, I suppose... "

    Eyes going to her hand still on the table, Historia had no words. She didn't have anything to say. She didn't know what to say, as the atmosphere between them began to part and the silence grew; she didn't know what it meant to feel that way for another person. Let alone, a stranger she just met. For someone as caring and kind as this old woman appeared to be, she herself was — She felt the old woman’s hand on her head fall away, and looked back over.

    "My daughter…" There were now tears in the corners of the old woman's eyes. "... They burn the bodies, you know that? Could just be ash by now... and I wouldn't even know." But, through the tears, in those eyes, was nothing except pride. "She's alive," she continued saying, fiercely. "Otherwise, I’d know… ain’t any Titans worse than me, after all."

    Searching the old woman's face, Historia placed her bandaged hand over one of her own. It was covered in calluses. "I believe she is... has to be…" She looked into her eyes; eyes so full of what she’d never received from her own mother nor her father nor from anyone else. "Can I... stay here a bit longer, before I move on...?"

    The old woman nodded. "Of course. I wouldn't have let you say no for an answer, anyway." She wiped her tears away, all hint of heartfelt emotion of the past buried down deep again. Locked in a cage only she could open. "My name is Isolde. Isolde Lenz."

    Her father's words coming back to her, Historia nuzzled her head into the old woman's shoulder, squeezing her hand tighter, and returned her smile. "Krista."

    "Welcome to your new home, Krista."

    A smile that was all too fake for her own good.

    Because she was better. One of a kind.

    Last edited by Historia; January 21st, 2022 at 02:58 AM.

  6. #6
    Dead Apostle Eater Historia's Avatar
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    Chapter 3

    Suzanne, head servant to Jörg Kramer of the Kramer Merchant Association within the Walls, stood in the doorway to her employer’s study, hands clasped in front of her apron awaiting his response to the words: your son is missing.

    Shortly following the Fall of Wall Maria, news had come in the form of hungry, hysterical, and desperate fleeing refugees that Quinta, the frontier District to the south of Shiganshina where the Titans had broken through which was also thought lost, had in fact survived the initial onslaught by its people barricading themselves behind its gates.

    This was both good news and bad news.

    Quinta was where the main Kramer estate was located and where the majority of the Kramer Merchant Association’s financial records were kept. This was the good news, as with Quinta’s gates barred the Titans were unable to tear through the District, keeping everyone safe and everything intact. But, the bad news, was this also meant that anyone currently trapped in Quinta could possibly ransack the estate in the chaos, and Suzanne doubted that Jeanne, two guards, and a handful of servants would be able to stop whomever it may be.

    While Jeanne was no pushover, the guards under Jörg were worth their weight in coin, and Suzanne herself had overseen the training of and handpicked those handful of servants, people in panic, in frenzy, were a mob and mobs were a storm of violence. In her experience, once they gained momentum there was little preventing them from the upheaval and ruination of whatever they chanced upon to achieve their haphazard goal of collective, wanton destruction. Two guards, regardless of how well equipped, well disciplined, well paid, paled in comparison to the swirling emotions of impending, inescapable doom, and the spare rifles locked in the armory would be of no use to them, either, for the only one with the key to unlock it other than herself as the head servant was the captain of Jörg’s personal guard, whom was currently accompanying them along with — and to make matters worse — the rest of his guard not counting those spread throughout the territories watching over his various shops, factories, and warehouses.

    Wealth abound to afford his own army rivaling the Garrison Regiment’s numbers, the largest branch of the military, and Suzanne always shook her head at his habit of leaving his main residence so poorly secured these past few years for reasons she could only guess.

    It were as if his ego had swelled in proportion to his girth, descending further and further into his fortune.

    The sight broke her heart after she’d only just finished picking up the shattered pieces from more than twenty years of regrets and, at the end of the day, she supposed it were for the best.

    Excluding the armory, the estate was full of decorative and ceremonial pieces on display, and while the swords and hammers and axes and spears were indeed somewhat serviceable if nothing else than to be used as crude bludgeons with their bedazzling jewels and encrusted gems, Suzanne hoped Jeanne and the others in the good woman’s care wouldn’t resort to their use, but knew immediately the very idea was folly because “abstinence” was a small word for such a big woman.

    Though being impressed by human height was laughable in the face of the Titans, it was no insignificant thing to gaff at the giant of a woman that Jeanne was even in her old age. The longest employed of Jörg’s servants and previous head servant, having served Sara’s father and helped raise Sara as well as Suzanne’s own late blooming, boisterous and proud, Jeanne wasn’t the kind to shrink away when danger harried her doors. With her bare fists, Jeanne would fight to her last to protect who and what she loved. If not her fists, then her words. Suzanne could still vividly picture herself being scooped up for lighting one on estate grounds, carried and scolded like the child she’d been. When she’d tried to wiggle from the woman’s arms, it was no skin off Jeanne’s back to answer in kind, squeezing her so tight in an embrace the air left her lungs until she stopped resisting. She’d woken up later to find her cigarettes gone, a pail and mop by her bedside, and Jeanne not letting her leave the room she’d been locked in until it was spotlessly cleaned. It’d be her last day smoking, her first day serving, pushing back and forth that mop with cracked ribs and a temper that persisted, until Jeanne dealt with that too. Just one of the many lessons that she’d taken to heart in mentoring Mathias albeit to a lesser degree: not everyone was going to put up with your shit.

    Once she became head servant after Jeanne stepped down in a show of faith, and one that Suzanne hadn’t dreamed of squandering since, she’d also extended these lessons to every subsequent servant who passed through the estate, and as a result they were certainly capable should any dilemmas arise in her newly found and much enjoyed “retirement”. Suzanne, to her own credit, before she left, as she often did traveling with Jörg on his business ventures, had taught each servant under Jeanne’s supervision how to defend themselves if need be, so the worry then wasn’t that the estate would be ravished while they were away, but that Jeanne and the rest, guards included, would incite more unnecessary violence by retaliating. Even as a warning to keep any would be thieves and ruffians at bay, the thought of the estate turning into a battlefield upon his eventual return, how ever many months or years further away that would be now, with Wall Maria’s fall, wasn’t something that would go over well with Jörg Kramer, sire of the Kramer Merchant Association.

    Nor was it so simple a task to just pack up the operation he’d planned months in advance and only begun conducting the past week in Fuerth to start the journey back, let alone attempt to enter the District itself. Quinta and Fuerth shared but a single village which acted as their central link to one another; a hub for the boats ferried to and fro on the river which ran through all three, but with the sheer amount of refugees still pouring into Fuerth and the surrounding territories within Wall Rose, no boats would be readily available in the foreseeable future. To cover that distance on horseback and foot was out of the question. The lands between here and there was already rough and rife with dangers uncommon the further inside you traveled, courtesy of the Exterior Garrison’s utter incompetence, without having to throw the Titans in. With the Titans, to leave now would be voluntary suicide. Not to go without mentioning their hands were already full dealing with said refugees as they continued to spread out illegally within his holdings in what was previously the cusp of the Interior and there wasn’t much anything he could do about that, either, short of shooting them on sight which would cause a whole separate stir of trouble he could doubtless pay off but would rather avoid entirely. But he also couldn’t obviously sit idly by and let all he’d accomplished over the decades in building up his legacy be for naught, so he’d sent upon a favor from the Royal Capital to see his assets secure everywhere. One that he’d been disinclined to share exactly what this entailed, though publicly he’d reassured everyone that the matter would be taken care of before the end of the next year. Suzanne imagined he’d also arranged something to be done about his estate in Quinta because even he couldn’t ignore the scandal if particular items kept in his private collection became public domain.

    Whereas, in the meantime, his son, Mathias, still too young to sit among his father’s inner circle and much too fiery for his own good, was left to twiddle his thumbs as he watched the rosy world he knew crumble before his sheltered eyes and the days went by and Suzanne first noticed his growing anxiety as he paced around his room in the guest quarters late at night unable to get a wink of sleep because all his thoughts were of Rita. Of the childhood friend he hadn’t seen in well over a year since her graduation and promotion to the Garrison, and who may very well be in Quinta with, reportedly, half of its remaining population. Last seen trying to save a man and his daughter from an overturned wagon in the fields not far from its outer gate or so one eyewitness proclaimed and pranced around parading the gallant tale of “a girl with the golden locks, who stabbed one of those things right in its stinking eye and felled it in one blow, straight through to the other side”, it couldn’t have been anyone else but Rita, far as Mathias was concerned. Though unfortunately unable to save the man and his daughter, supposing it actually had been Rita, her bravery allowed this eyewitness and several others the chance to escape. As for what happened to her after, he shrugged and said “eh, can’t really say!”.

    And despite her reinforcement that Rita was alive, that she’d taken refuge with the others in Quinta, that it should be enough for him to know she was unharmed, it wasn’t enough for the scion of the Kramer Merchant Association. He had to see her with his own two eyes, and this want only further heated his anxieties. Which, as proven by his abrupt absence this morning, had finally reached a boiling point and blew its top. The thought of not knowing if she were alive or dead, the girl he loved and was like a little sister to Suzanne in kind, had gnawed at him until enough was enough and he’d ran off on his own just last night and now he was gone; joined the first line of volunteers, soldiers and civilians alike out into the now Titan-infested territory in the hopes to save what and who they could, or at least that was what she’d gathered, having asked the Military Police officers and spoken with a few of the lesser drunken Garrison soldiers who’d been signing up these unfortunate men and women per what could only be a result of Jörg’s favor. The grand majority of them were the same refugees who narrowly avoided becoming Titan food with nothing left to lose because they’d already lost everything and of those she questioned, many recalled the one stand out among the crowd: the boy in the nice clothes with an air of nobility and the refusal to take “no” for an answer despite his application being denied.

    Obviously, he’d found a way around it and, she would find out exactly how later, as currently her hands twisted cloth, continuing to wait upon his father’s reply. This man who’d done nothing but unhurriedly divide his shares and shuffle his stacks since his son left, with Suzanne having known the answer to her question of those words well enough already, even if she didn’t want to admit it.

    The “how” Mathias left prevalent in her mind, Suzanne remembered that particular morning where she’d dealt with that worker and he’d barged into one of his father’s many meetings, both of them unannounced, uninvited, and loathed by their recipients. She, receiving a threat to all she held dear. He, told his concerns were still being looked into, even though everyone knew they weren’t.

    Regardless of this latest news Quinta had already been considered abandoned from the onset, left to fend for itself by the Kramer Merchant Association and its peers, the Royal Government, and even the King himself.

    Jörg and his colleagues saw it as an accountable consequence — or a minor setback at best — though they still funded this expedition that his son sneaked his way on.

    The Royal Government considered them a lost case, yet they still sent soldiers to recruit and organize this expedition.

    The King spoke through his adviser, who from no word had reached Suzanne’s ears of what was to be done about Quinta, silent since the Fall began, but, nor had any news of condoning or approving or finding alternatives to this expedition either, which only meant one thing: all eyes were on the refugees and what was to be done with them. Where to send them. Dispose of them.

    And it wouldn’t surprise her if this expedition was just the first of many, as Jörg still didn’t bother to look up well after he was finished, his coins sorted, payments signed, taxes and levies and owes collected, written down in his record book, as always. Thus she dared inquire again.

    “So what’re ya gonna do about yer son, hah? Did ya know he knows about the artworks?” she blurted out, accent and arrogance all that she’d been doing so well in biting back on for the past twenty years in her struggle to rise above her roots, slipping from her tongue as easily she might slip a knife between someone’s ribs, of which Jörg was her victim now; ignited by Mathias’s own passions she resonated with and the lack thereof within his father of the same blood.

    Oh! And how everything came trickling back and blinding her better judgment for but a moment like the blood running throughout the cracks and crevices of the Underground.

    The disrespect in her voice that he’d only heard since her youth and his days when his wife were still with them brought his eyes up from his record book. It was something Jörg had told no one, not even Sara — a loss so devastating that it’d almost consumed him, body and mind — before she passed, and Suzanne knew it was also the only thing that might coax him into tearing his eyes from the damned record book, a tome of transgressions, its pages dank and rancid from Jörg’s ever dripping brow, hunched over it relentlessly each night same time same day, through his midnight fevers, induced by his lack of proper rest, day in, day out, week after week, month after month, of nothing but work — of nothing but worry of all the wrong things — to lift a finger to help his son that she’d promised never to tell between she and two children ever since the day they first met.

    In one of those rare moments where the man, in his delirium, saw and spoke to not the girl he rescued from the slums beneath Mitras but his wife who died too young, mistaking the two, he began softly before regaining his senses and he scowled. This wasn’t Sara but Suzanne, the urchin who stole his wife’s heart and was entrusted by her to care for their son in her stead while he worked tirelessly to cope, and, why, his artworks, his most prized possessions that if discovered, if taken, could be worth more than the Kramer Merchant Association and all its wealth combined! How dare she find out about its existence! He’d trusted her! And, yet, trusted nobody! His only remaining solace was that he knew her secret, too, of which he reminded her, and one he was inclined to, if he so wished, and had every right, to dispose of her, then and there.

    But, then, she told him of the threat she’d received. That if Mathias was in the company of whom she thought then he was in peril from greater forces than a scolding from her, the wrath of his father, or the Titans themselves, explaining thus that if he’d agreed to reveal the location of the artworks in exchange for “safe passage” to Quinta, there was no guarantee said person would keep his word. Mathias would be murdered, and whatever happened after, artworks or not, meant nothing. If his son died, his legacy died, and then Jörg would lose everything like he always feared but was currently too blind to see it and would become just another refugee with only empty coffers to keep him company, for the rest of his life.

    She wouldn’t allow either to transpire. Even going so far as using that man’s teachings again, further explaining how while she wasn’t able to track down the messenger, the man who threatened her posing as a worker, she’d found who hired him to deliver it from one of the volunteers he’d bribed. While she still needed to know the “how”, she at least knew that Bernhardt had been here, in Fuerth. It was enough for now because in this moment, if she was going to convince this stubborn man, then it had to be. So, uncaring whether or not of the consequence, she told him of this second man who taught her his “trade”, Kenny Ackerman, as Jörg only knew of the former. Whereupon, clearly recognizing the descriptions she brought forth if not the name, what little color remained drained from Jörg’s sickly face as he turned even paler still. Except, as son was to father, his eyes, hidden behind his loose, black strands of hair, lit by the candlelight upon his desk, seemed to blaze. His lip curled back, showing his once fine teeth now yellowed. He rose from his chair, fat fingers reaching out as if to grasp her throat, and, then, he stopped. He slumped back down, and stared for a long time at his precious record book, before he finally heaved a heavy sigh and looked up at her with the eyes of the same man who’d rescued her a lifetime ago. It was the man who loved his family, his wife, his son, and a sliver of hope rushed through her, only to become a shiver of disbelief that settled down her backside as that man vanished again, abruptly as he’d surfaced, buried by the sorrow weighing upon his heart and thereupon when he spoke she never would’ve assumed it was the same man for the first time, ever, in her life.

    “Then just let the boy die.”

    It was his final answer, laid bare.

    And she began to protest, only for him to raise his hand to silence her.

    “I gave explicit instructions to turn him away. It’s out of my hands now,” he said, sounding defeated. Bitter. Disgusted. Too easily. And it’s all because of you, his eyes seemed to say, because now I know why. You rascal. Thief. Murderer. “I’m done trying to spur that boy on the right path.”

    She didn’t let her surprise linger. Instead she coughed. Loosened her collar. Stood straight. Choose her words carefully, this time. What she wanted, in exchange. The last request of a humble servant; his best. “Then let me accompany the agent you have no doubt sent for.” In addition to helping mastermind these “expeditions”, though she dared not rile him up any further and give him cause to resent her more that she ever thought him capable, it was clear to her that a man of his standing would have more than just one favor owed to his personage. “He can secure you estate. I can make sure your son is safe. He has been my responsibility, after all.”

    “And after?”

    “I’ll leave your employ. You’ll never see me again.”

    “Fine, fine,” he said with another heavy sigh. “The ‘agent’ arrives in a week. Two, if he’s late. But, know this,” he warned, holding up three stubby fingers, “This is the third time.”

    She smiled a crack, at that. The old Jörg was in there, somewhere, after all.

    Forever grateful, she bowed and took her leave.
    Last edited by Historia; January 21st, 2022 at 03:01 AM.

  7. #7
    Dead Apostle Eater Historia's Avatar
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    Chapter 4

    A day and a half after leaving Fuerth with the expedition and their subsequent ill-fated parting, and after countless failed attempts to get comfortable without a bed to sleep on nor unable to find a spot where there wasn't a twig or root or something else digging into his side, Mathias found himself lying on his back against the base of a tree, hands folded over his stomach, gazing up at the seemingly endless sky of melting winter greens for yet another night of restless sleep, wondering if Rita was faring any better in Quinta as he closed his eyes to try yet again.

    Scenes from his childhood faded in then out until one eventually stuck the same as his first night back in Fuerth, which, coincidentally, had also been restless.

    It was nothing, at first.

    Just one of many in a collection of bright specks on a blanket of black which seemed so far from his reach, until it grew brighter and brighter still, coalescing into a single star and shining within it the girl he called a childhood friend: Rita Iglehaut.

    She stood there smiling wide, gazing up at a statue in a corridor at his childhood home that was his father’s estate in Quinta. Her already dazzling features were lit underneath a thin column of light protruding from a gap in the corridor's ceiling as the finishing touches at the time were still being laid, illuminating her soft, strawberry blonde hair in a halo of brilliant shimmering gold; the shining angelic beauty of innocent youth.

    Then, the picture in his mind began to change, to take a new shape, to move forward, until he was again seated at the dining table with Rita and her family on the second floor of their apothecary which belonged to Henning, her adoptive father, and his father and his father’s father before him, passed down for generations, Mathias’s own father’s lessons echoing in his head again — “always consider the popular opinion” — but, as he lay, thinking of his father now, what he’d become, how could such a man like his father, Jörg Kramer, head of the Kramer Merchant Association, possibly begin to know; understand the popular opinion if he refused to mingle with them besides the rare occasion? And, as always, across from him sat Rita dressed in Garrison uniform like before, still smiling that sweet, lovely smile. Beside her, was her adoptive mother Doris. And beside Doris, was Henning. There was no hierarchy, no head at the table, because in Rita’s family everyone was equal. Everything was shared.

    On the table between them were those familiar candles and the lamp and he could feel their light warmth against his face as Doris laughed at something Rita said and he began to drift himself; to finally surrender himself to a sleep he thought would never come again until suddenly the light of the candles waned and lamp dimmed as a chill set in and shadows deep and deeper still and darkest yet filled the place where comfort had once been and Doris and Henning vanished while Rita remained, though her smile was now gone.

    Long gone.

    Her innocent youth cracking to reveal the cold, remorseless truth, the scene crumpled, the apothecary collapsed, and she grew in stature, saddled on horseback at the head of a detachment of soldiers, features grim, hair a hastily fashioned mess, gazing up at the face of Wall Maria and its gleaming cannons higher above and its gates down ahead, wearing those same colors of the Garrison proudly upon her shoulder: red ruby roses entangled in white thorns and, freshly stitched above it, a single white stripe, denoting her promotion to a rank of leadership.

    The distance separating them became a chasm. He could never hope to reach her.

    Standing smaller across from her, Mathias hesitated to step forward and call out to her for fear he may fall in, and was forced to watch her go, disappearing through the gates and into darkness. The unknown. Then, the dream died away as he recalled that cold morning he’d heard the news of Quinta’s fall from Suzanne, of the meeting between his father and his father's colleagues, discussing their most immediate courses of action when he'd simply barged in, demanding to know what they planned to do about Quinta — about Rita — and he bared his teeth as to their response, opening his eyes.

    That response? They were working on it.

    Hours later, and they’d still been working on it.

    So, he’d gone out to do something on his own, succeeding in joining the expedition with the help of Bernhardt and his band of outlaws on the condition he’d lead them to his father’s treasures, a significant portion of his fortune, perhaps the most valuable of it all, in Quinta, in exchange for safe passage there. But that was before the village. Before the Titan had chased them away. Scattered them. Before…

    He shuddered and tried not to think about it any longer, not for the second time today, and turned on his side.

    After that, they’d come across Titans four times more, but he didn’t want to think about those encounters, either, and, since then, Bernhardt had forced them to abandon the wagon in favor of cover under the giant trees on horseback because of it, which marginally improved their chances. Not that the man seemed much at all worried. It was only a few days, at the most less than a week, from Quinta, or so he remembered Jarratt saying, and following a heated argument they’d agreed to final terms. Glancing at Nikki, Mathias pursed his lips. The two of them had shared the same horse and on more than one occasion she'd favored pushing him off to save that smoked meat, leaving him sore and bruised and having to catch up before they could move on. Not only had her smoked meat delayed them, but his whole body ached. He’d wanted nothing more to do than take it from her and throw it somewhere in the forest — but then they'd just waste more time trying to find her instead. Either way he’d been in a foul mood. And still was, somewhat, Klaus’s words from earlier echoing in the back of his head following their argument.

    Maybe you just lack the nerve.

    Thinking once more of Rita, his jaw loosened and he breathed deep, then relaxed. Getting worked up over it wouldn't do him nor the refugees nor Rita any benefit, just like the day of his mother’s funeral, his last memory of her being his head against her breast as she lay in bed, too sickly to move, feeling her fleeting warmth against his, a flicker of life, stroking his hair, until there was nothing at all, and though the word envy never once crossed his mind something still gnawed at him like an itch. A hurt he couldn’t explain. A longing. That is, until Suzanne, though he hadn’t said a word of it, whom he trusted with his life, his confidence, shared stories of his mother from before he was born as a young girl plucked from her home, forced into a marriage she’d no say in, all chance of a happy life suffocated though being privy to all the comforts of the world, planning her own departure until her only son, he, was born, and how quickly those plans were undone.

    That this longing, this hurt, this feeling, was representative of something deeper, something rawer that was only coming to the surface now, like a flower in bloom.

    Why, it’s love, Mathias.

    And lying there, he twisted his shirt where his heart was, remembering that day Rita left. That’d been love, too, but Suzanne had only offered a thin smile in return, cautioning him to forget about Rita's troubles to focus on his studies. On his own problems. That she could handle herself, she was a strong girl, so he, too, had to be strong if he wanted to see her again. If he wanted to be the new head of the Kramer Merchant Association, someday soon.

    Your compassion can only bring you so far. There will come a time when it won't be enough. I want you to be prepared for that.

    "You idiot," he chided to himself in a whisper.

    Grabbing a fistful of dry leaves, of course Suzanne knew about his feelings for Rita, and, crunching them in his palm, of course she also knew how impulsive he was, that she wouldn’t simply sit idle and let him go. She would find a means to stop him, so he had to reach Quinta before she did, get Rita, and then… and then…

    He turned red in the face and let the leaves fall.

    "Can't sleep, lad?"

    The voice startled him and he shot up, peering around. It was too dark to see, but, after a moment, Mathias' eyes adjusted and he recognized Bernhardt's wide, muscular frame.

    The former soldier was on watch duty.

    "Worrying about your sweetheart?" he teased. He turned his head partially, mustache peeking out underneath his nose, fixing him with those light blue eyes of his. Though, they were no longer bright or cheerful. Rather they seemed glossy, like a corpse. Snuffed of their eagerness and youth he'd put on any other time before. Lifeless.

    Mathias stayed silent. And not because he didn't want to wake the others, but because of Bernhardt. He seemed... more somber than usual. Like Mathias was seeing, for the first time — perhaps, the only time — a crack in his armor. The real Bernhardt. If that was even possible.

    Mathias’s heart pounded in his chest. He was soaked with sweat. Cold. He couldn’t stop himself from shaking, at this realization of who he’d exactly gotten himself involved with.

    "Well don't be, she's just fine," Bernhardt said quietly, seemingly oblivious to the look Mathias was giving him. "Far away, safe from harm. Hunkered down, snug and warm. You should be more concerned about those you're currently traveling with.”

    Again, as before during their argument, Mathias's eyes wandered to the shotgun at his hip, but this time he stayed his hand. He gulped, and dared to ask the former member of the Military Police a question that'd been ever near the forefront of his mind since meeting him and his “glorious outlaws” that night at the bar.

    "Have we... met before?"

    Bernhardt perked up at the question, going back to his usual self for but a moment. "Why, I thought I told you lad — everyone knows the scion of the renowned Kramer Merchant Association!” He lifted a finger. “And, well, I thought to pay a visit to an old acquaintance of mine. I'm certain you know of her." Then, it lowered, as did his sing-song voice, pointing down at the shotgun. Deathly so. "After all, she is the one who taught you how to shoot, am I right, lad?"

    And just like that, all at once, Mathias went from cold to frozen.


    He’d told them it was his father, not Suzanne, so then how could—? Until it dawned on him: his father. Reading his son's thoughts was nothing for the sire of the Kramer Merchant Association. It wasn't a mystery, but a whisper in the dark. It was why his application had been denied outright, and, perhaps, as he looked into Bernhardt’s eyes, something far more sinister and just how deeply embedded his father’s role in it might be, thinking of their deal. He’d agreed under the notion it was just numerous pieces of old, indistinguishable art, stored away in the underground basement. But that was when he’d been just a child, trying to impress Rita by showing her a bunch of dusty canvases like all the rest adorning the walls throughout the mansion. But what if they were actually something more? Countless theories leaped to his mind then, but when he opened his mouth nothing came out to which Bernhardt answered wholeheartedly now, rejuvenated; his armor repaired.

    "All in due time, my lad! Best get some sleep, now. We still have a way to go!"

    Their brief conversation done, the only thing Mathias could do after was lie back down, apprehensive of what further lay ahead even more, the repressed memory of those two soldiers, the Titan, and their flight, slicing through his thoughts like Bernhardt’s blade through one of those soldiers’ necks, coming back to terrify him.

    Having stared at Bernhardt the same way he’d done the Titan back at the village as it pawed at its face, pulling its own skin off and exposing the muscle underneath, its expression even more jubilant than before, almost as if it’d been excited; that the wire still lodged in its eye from Bernhardt’s attack was some new game it hadn’t played before, its large, dumpy body falling from the stable roof, crawling like a newborn babe ever toward them as they all fled, he remembered how Bernhardt had dragged him relentlessly, and they rounded the corner of the main building just as the wagon Jarratt had stolen appeared with Klaus and Nikki in the back, tossing both him and the Gear alongside, all the while feeling like this were happening in some far-off world, yet knowing in his gut that, no, this was real, and it was a living nightmare.

    And tonight, Bernhardt wasn’t unlike a Titan himself. And having seen it in his eyes too, Mathias was reminded of the same look in Suzanne once, when he’d angered her greatly, that silenced him so as whatever this man truly was frightened him worse than any Titan, as one word came to his lips and his eyes passed over the others, sound asleep: murderer.

    To think he only had a man such as this and his gang to rely on from here on until they reached Quinta. He really was an idiot, but… for Rita… he… He was lost, and alone, and angry, and, oh yes, afraid, without her.

    “Hold on, Rita,” he whispered, her smile putting his mind at ease and finally to sleep, but it was all he could do to keep from fleeing like Leon had before him.
    Last edited by Historia; January 21st, 2022 at 03:02 AM.

  8. #8
    Dead Apostle Eater Historia's Avatar
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    Chapter 5

    Walking into the district hall after her first visit ended poorly, up to its second floor and down the hall into the district mayor’s office, since quelling the worst of the looting, riots, and the ransacking, it was still as untouched as when she’d left it before the reality of their situation had completely sunk in.

    She’d first come here in the hopes of finding someone that might be useful toward a non-violent handling of the mounting unrest of all those citizens now corralled like cattle in Quinta, only to find that all the officials who were to be responsible for navigating their current circumstances had fled. Not a single one remained in the entirety of the District — they’d checked — and so it’d somehow fallen upon her shoulders to be that person. Her hands were never not full, her mind never not occupied, and, back then, she’d naively entered here thinking she’d find something of value. That, in the panic, the mayor might’ve chosen to save his own life rather than risk it for whatever was in the drawers of his office. Now she knew what a waste of time it’d been to even consider the possibility.

    Having learned from that experience — and a subsequent use of force against some looters despite her best intentions — no, she wasn’t here a second time to merely poke around again. She was here now to make this their new headquarters having thought how best to utilize the areas they’d to work within it: the large, empty desk would continue to be for all the paperwork she’d be doing starting today; the obnoxiously larger, fanciful chair that, while thankfully quite comfortable she’d even slept in it once, could be broken down and used for necessity and not luxury, replaced with something more practical; the vacant bookshelves lining either side of the room would be cleared of whatever frivolous vanities the mayor hadn’t bothered carting out and used for storing said paperwork, tied in categorized bundles, neatly stacked, along with other useful materials, as should’ve been; and the window behind, which so happened to overlook the plaza the district hall presided, cleaned daily, to offer an unobstructed view of the plaza and surrounding buildings below. And going to the window, reminiscing when it’d been completely deserted and silent as a graveyard, how one of those three trainees she’d brought with her then remarked of seeing the once bustling and busy hall abandoned, Rita took a proud moment to admire the once deserted plaza now occupied by what remained of Quinta’s Garrison soldiers and volunteers as they made their preparations for later duties, led by Amanda, her acting second in command, and couldn’t help but frown.

    During what was supposed to be the evacuation, the commander had rallied those senior members of the Garrison manning the cannons in a suicide charge, leaving this year’s Training Corps, the 103th Division — greener-nosed kids than they themselves who’d graduated only two years prior and further in over their heads than she and the rest of her fellow graduates were — in charge of the cannons, and she remembered how the volleys that followed missed their targets by wide margins, their operators’ accuracy a far-cry from their predecessors, hitting everything except the Titans they were aiming for, and she wondered if Amanda was enough to keep them straight, with that temper of hers. The last they wanted were soldiers both inexperienced and even more scared than they already were.

    “Commander, I have the duties for today,” Duccio, one of the three trainees who’d accompanied her that first time, said, standing in the open door. The other two were Thomas and Heinrich, both busy organizing logistics and supplies elsewhere.

    She’d promoted the three of them to be her assistants and though she still wasn’t used to her new title, until it was passed to someone better qualified with a willingness to accept she wasn’t about to shy away from her duties now. Again, until such a time came — and soon, she could only hope — she would serve to her utmost, no matter her personal reservations on the matter. For Wilco, for Amanda, for the commander, for that little girl she saved, her parents, and all the rest of them. If nothing else, she would become the leader they needed in such turbulent times, even if that meant she had to change. As was her duty, as a member of the Garrison Regiment of Quinta.

    And as Duccio, the best of the three, constantly by her side, who was consistently going above and beyond with a quick mind to match though he was young, only fifteen years old, but promising as a leader — more promising than her, anyway — began to rattle off all of what those duties would be for today, Rita half-turned to listen, her thoughts drifting to a scene from her youth, seven to eight, running alongside Mathias exploring his family’s estate with one of his family’s servants, Suzanne, accompanying them so they didn’t break anything as their fathers were away discussing matters in private. Having commanded Suzanne to stay behind when they reached the estate’s inner courtyard, Mathias had led her to a secret spot under a massive tree which grew there and made her promise to seal her lips that she’d never talk about it because his father didn’t know that he’d discovered the spot. Something shared between them that would go on to solidify their early days together.

    It was the first day they’d met, having quickly become attached not because they suited each other but because of circumstance; he an outgoing rich man's son and she the timid adopted daughter of his mother’s physician.

    His mother had been physically ill, getting worse by the day with not much longer to live and hers already deceased beyond the Walls. They had almost nothing in common except loss, and through this equal loss they’d stuck together during those tough times as she rubbed the pendant he gifted her kept high about her neck. Doing so had became a soothing reminder that someone, somewhere out there, would always be there for her, would always share the same pain, the same comfort, and that together they’d be stronger for it. It was her light in the dark and she caressed it dearly, hoping he was safe and well away from this madness, as Duccio finished and she thanked then dismissed him with a thin smile, when Amanda swaggered in.

    Only a year ago, she’d been made a team leader with Amanda as her second, and while that hierarchy remained, everyone knew that their roles should’ve been reversed. Amanda was more talented, more suited for such responsibility, especially now, when leadership was needed the most, but had refused outright, and Rita’s gut twisted as her grip tightened around her pendant, smothering it in her palm, its rounded edges pressing into her skin. Her thin smile faded, the frown returned.

    In the beginning, being appointed the acting commander did little to sooth the citizens' worrisome hearts and minds and it was Amanda, from the moment she strapped her boots on, not Rita, who everyone was looking at though Rita held senior rank while Amanda herself didn’t care for it.

    Her parents’ remarks the night she’d assumed the position at the dinner table rang heavy in her ears. Doris’s show of rolling her eyes and Henning’s silent disbelief. How she kept having to point out to her mother that she was only the acting commander, and her father, who was looking at her as if she’d just finished banging her head on the table like when she was three and entirely thick-headed that it was temporary in time of crisis and without an officer of higher rank present, then trying to answer their combined barrage of questions after. Of the district’s stockpiles — money, supplies — and how much they had left, which she’d shook her head to, unknowingly exactly the amount. About the number of horses, which were less than twenty. Where those questions had been leading toward; an idea that had already been floated between her, Amanda, and the others from her year. That is, to send out small groups, earlier, before things had gotten too bad. An idea they’d decided against in the hope that reinforcements from Fuerth would arrive, and by the simple fact that even if they’d manage to clear the surrounding territories of Titans somehow, it was suicide if they ran into the ones fast on their feet. Those “aberrant” Titans, as they were designated by the military. They’d be wiped out. Then there would be fewer horses, fewer soldiers, and fewer manpower that’d better serve elsewhere. No, she’d known what her father was thinking, being the one to ask that question in particular, but it wouldn’t work. As for supplies and money, which Doris asked, seeing as their own stock of bandages, medicine, and herbs were dwindling rapidly day by day with them running the apothecary unbeholden to any and all in need of assistance, it was a miracle that nobody had yet thought and tried to loot it overnight, but it was only a matter of time.

    And despite her insistence, they’d refused her offer to have soldiers posted outside the apothecary. Doris, especially, though she’d served as an assistant in the district hall prior, part of the time split between this and helping Henning run the apothecary, hadn’t been keen on the military keeping order before Wall Maria was breached, and certainly not after. For whatever reason, the commander — the previous commander — was always at odds with them. Always coming by to check and see how their business was thriving. At the time, Rita figured it was out of concern, but as with everything else she’d seen now, the world was full of surprises that could turn what she thought she knew upside down in an instant and her parents, the apothecary, weren’t excluded.

    Most of all, as Doris’s footsteps had fallen away as she slipped in the kitchen and her father slunk back to his work and her thoughts returned to the present, their blatant disapproval combined with the other citizen’s woes and Amanda’s ever looming presence cast a dark shadow over her that felt like a punishment, and as she glanced from the window to Amanda, it drew darker still from how painful being forced into the position of acting commander was when she didn’t have the same cadence in her step, no authority in her voice, stumbling over her words as she did her boots, standing shorter than most her age, with even more child-like features than her better.

    Amanda was her opposite, her rival, the exemplar anyone in their right mind should follow. Rita was the one always seen behind her. Hiding in her shadow. The quiet and meek little girl, tugging at her father’s legs too afraid to show her face.

    Unlike Amanda, who was almost always on patrol, cleaning up the streets after that initial scuffle heedless of her injuries during the failed evacuation, and the one who’d actually slew the Titan that gave her the chance to save that little girl, the only things Rita would fight here in this district hall were the sores on her behind and a lack of sleep from long, restless hours stuck putting ink to paper because she was still afraid to assume the full mantle as the acting commander. Telling herself that she should stay within these walls because it was her duty to see it done; that it set an example, a standard all others after her should strive to meet, lest she fall though she’d much rather be out there beside Amanda — except her example was meager, her presence small, and the doubt ever at the back of her mind that she that she’d never settle into her new role; that she would never be better.

    That she would never change.

    Not that Amanda gave a damn about any of that either, she knew.

    And it was that thought which made her smile again, brighter than before, as she broke her mind away from the notion because whatever she did it was her duty, and duty was all that mattered. Because, even being who she was, Amanda was her best friend, and turning fully to look at the other girl, at once, her hand relaxed. Her expression softened. Her gut untwisted. Her grip on her pendant loosened.

    Amanda. Amanda was her best friend, but, if she wanted to take control of the situation, live up to her example, be the one others would follow, that would have to change, too, Rita also knew. She needed to start making the tough decisions and not just the easy ones. No more being ignored. No more letting things go. No more hiding. No more being afraid. No more searching for survivors they’d never find. Because, for Quinta’s Garrison, the 103th Training Corps, the citizens within the District, loss was the one thing all of them had in common now, and it was time to grow up. She and Amanda could no longer be so close.

    Or so she told herself, thumbing her pendant.

    “What’s that look for?”

    “Oh, it’s nothing.”

    Giving a shrug as if to say “whatever you say”, plopping down in the mayor’s chair and propping her boots on the desk, Amanda swung her head back, addressing her precisely as if nothing had changed between them in the last week. “Looks like you’ll have your hands full today.”

    Though the lack of protocol made her cringe, Rita ignored it on account of who it was. And she could use her companionship. At least for today. The last time they would, even if the other girl didn’t know it yet. Or if she’d even care. It would also do some good to hand over the command of the soldiers to Duccio for a time, besides. A short time, anyway. A few days, at the most, right? They were his fellow trainees, after all. Same as Amanda was to her, and well...

    Rita cleared her throat. “Actually, about that, I was wondering if you’d like to be my record keeper for today. I could certainly use the help.”

    Amanda’s head didn’t move but her eyes swiveled down to look at her. “I have teams to organize. Patrols to set. Kids too busy pissing their pants to manage. Besides, you know my handwriting is crap.” She scratched the bandage wrapped around her head. One of the several injuries she’d suffered when she’d saved Rita’s life during the failed evacuation.

    Rita lowered her eyes briefly upon seeing the blood crusted beneath it, though it was significantly less than what it’d been previously.

    Amanda’s long, black hair was roped behind her head; also a violation that she’d chosen to overlook. All soldiers in the military under active duty were required to keep the length of their hair above the shoulder. This was a safety precaution due to their regular use of the Vertical Maneuvering Gear they wore. Many accidents had transpired because of hair length in the past, and she’d rather not see her best friend lose her scalp, as well, in addition to the wounds already sustained.

    While she thought to address this when she turned her eyes back up, Rita doubted Amanda would obey it either, even as a command from her superior, and gave up before she began. Instead, she let her hand brush over the hilt of the blade slung around her waist. The sheath contained the firing control for the Vertical Maneuvering Gear. On her back she wore the motor that recoiled the wire. By contrast, Amanda had unhooked both of hers and thrown them beside her boots on the desk.

    That leniency would have to change, too. Doubly, considering her position as acting second in command. Only, Rita couldn’t find it in her to order it.

    Originally, Rita had it worked out to put her on bodyguard duty, but with her head injury feared to be the further cause of something else more severe, and so that position had gone to Nicholas, a robust boy from their year with a square body and head and smaller, pinched face. During training and still now, he held a quiet nature that was acceptable, but he’d persisted in mentioning why he’d joined the Garrison in the first place: to stay away from danger. A cobbler’s son, he'd been aiming to transfer to the Nedlay District, the next District down from Quinta facing the north, which was his hometown, though there was a very slim chance that request would be honored in the foreseeable future. The reason he’d joined was so his family didn’t have to worry about keeping him fed while he had so many brothers and sisters, being the oldest, of which, if she recalled correctly, totaled three sisters and four brothers. He held a strong aversion to confrontation, and thus he was currently guarding the door to the mayor's office. Later, when they were more organized, she’d have to raise that number by one. Also, perhaps, keep him and Amanda separated after this, because he still grew visibly upset whenever Amanda called him “Blockhead”. Which was yet another concern: Amanda was very much the bully. Rita planned it so that as her designated record keeper for the day, and maybe a bit longer, it would serve to have Amanda close as well as out of trouble. It furthermore went without saying that by being her record keeper she’d have an easier time recovering and thus would be all the better healed come time when she was needed out there on the streets. It was as good an official justification as any, if challenged. Rita just needed things to go smoothly, and for Amanda to first accept.

    Her best friend finally conceded after a second round of nagging, on the condition that Rita follow her up to the Wall to get some fresh air before they started.

    The two of them now standing atop the Wall overlooking the aftermath of Quinta’s failed evacuation, Rita looked across fields burned black from fires uncontained and the open plains and hills man made that stretched for miles until they turned rough and disturbed where sawed down trunks of enormous size marked the beginning of what was the forest of giant trees bordering the District. According to Mathias, in his effort to make Quinta less reliant on tourism which had been the main source of revenue for the District due to the mere size of their surrounding forests, Mathias’s father had gradually cut away at them to reduce its scale and provide resource for the infrastructure of what was to become buildings that “were to rival those of the marvelous Mitras itself”. It was also to discourage open-air vendors not under his employ to pocket a profit as they were all but eventually bought or forced out. Well, considering their current dilemma, it seemed like all his efforts would be for naught, for many of his buildings were but ash and cinder, burned during the riots, there wouldn’t be anyone visiting for leisure and guided journeys through the forests, there were no tents, no vendors, no profits, nothing out there but abandoned wagons yet to be broken down, dead bodies yet to be cleared, and the Titans, roaming in want of their next victims.

    She knew he nor his father were trapped in the District alongside them because their procession, always the grandiose affair, had left months prior, and wondered how Mathias was taking the news that’d surely reached him of their situation. She imagined it not something he’d calmly sit down and listen to. He was probably already organizing some foolish foray into the territory between here and there, through miles of inhospitable lands, only inhabited by the hardiest of those within the Walls, that would quickly be dismissed by his father, a powerful man, if not the most powerful man, within Wall Maria. For a non-noble. The thought set her mind at ease, as no matter how defiant her childhood friend, he wouldn’t dare go against his father, and she just hoped Mathias was somewhere safely far beyond this nightmare as a repulsive aroma of scorched wood and charred flesh wafted up from what was left of the shantytown that once prospered against Quinta’s walls, its shell-pocked streets and those few houses left standing peppered countless score from the volley upon volley of cannon fire.

    Not bothering to take in the sights herself, Amanda quipped that they were like cattle locked in a cage while she sat carelessly across the back of one of their cannon emplacements, the wind blowing through her hair, picking at the burn scabs on her arms; penned on all sides, calmly awaiting their deaths from either starvation or self-ruination when tensions became frayed and tempers once flared reached their limits, it was a somber thought on an already sultry morning.

    Rita chose not to think like that, but couldn’t help but be in agreement.

    Her attention then went to the gate itself, to its iron plates covered in dark, dried blood. Though Titans still clawed at it, there were fewer of them since the first days; a great number having lost interest and wandered off to who-knows-where within the wider territory in search of, she could only surmise, easier prey. Being locked behind these walls was their only solace and a sigh escaped Rita’s lips as the task of clearing out these straggling Titans which still harassed them was going to prove to be a challenge. With the more experienced members of the Garrison all but having perished in the flight from Quinta, the majority left within were all raw recruits including she and her fellow graduates. None of them had battled Titans in such numbers as that day, had rarely seen greater than a few on their patrols along the Walls before, and it was as Amanda said: it was a matter of properly disciplining those left that was to decide their continued survival here. That was to say, all rookies capable of staring up at a Titan and not soil their pants immediately. There weren’t many after that disaster of an evacuation. Why, she could count them on her fingers! It would be slow going, and though her eyes looked at the gate all she saw were those wagons and people being swallowed and spat out one after the other through it while those who were still attempting to foolishly leave the District clashed with those clamoring to get back in, on that horrible day, again. A mass of bent noses, busted lips, and bruised faces, black on blue on purple with splashes and splatters of red, all without being attacked by the Titans themselves. The amount of shouting, crying, screaming, and wailing had been enough to make her ears bleed.

    She remembered the dozens of wagons rumbling frantically for that outer gate, fleeing across those open plains, kicking clouds of dust behind them as the cannons along the walls rang out, bombarding the advancing, nigh unkillable threat. Whether it was putting massive holes through their bodies, blasting apart their limbs, turning their heads to mush, no injury seemed too great. Steam simply exhausted from their new orifices, forms contorting and conforming and repairing themselves to rise and walk again.

    How their front line was slaughtered in the blink of an eye.

    The second line, running at the mere sight of the terrors they were about to face.

    Herself, in the third, astride her horse just outside this outlying shantytown, her stomach churning and twisting and tightening, turning end over end as she threw up and wiped her sleeve when the commander informed them that they were it; that it was between them and the gate the lives of those in Quinta depended upon.

    He’d ordered them to cover the retreat back to the gate. To protect and escort as many as possible inside Quinta as he and the rest of the senior members of Quinta’s Garrison still alive dealt with those Titans at their backs.

    News of the fall of Shiganshina had just arrived that previous evening, resulting in an immediate decision of the government officials residing within Quinta to abandon the District, being little farther west along the Wall than Shiganshina, and they were supposed to have evacuated to Wall Rose, to Fuerth District, only the Titans reached Quinta faster than anticipated. Which meant Shiganshina’s inner gate had been breached in less than an hour — and maybe even more unthinkable, less than half an hour — of its outer gate. The evacuation was planned around the notion that it’d take the Titans at least several days to breach the second gate, if at all, but that plan had obviously fallen through, and it was in the midst of the new emergency evacuation that the Titans fell upon them and, shortly thereafter, with a raise of her trembling hand, she’d given the commander’s order to charge, riding alongside Amanda, the last howl of a cold winter nipping at her exposed ears as they followed her straight into certain death because there hadn’t been any other choice.

    Because it was their duty.

    She remembered reaching the overturned wagon, the father pinned underneath the horse and his little girl. Amanda saving her life, and nearly losing her own for her efforts, drenched in steaming blood head to toe. Wilco leading them to safety. The gate as it finally closed shut, keeping them inside and leaving unlucky hundreds outside to the eager mouths of the Titans. Covering the little girl’s ears until the screams stopped.

    And in the silence that followed save for the clawing of the Titans at the outer gate’s iron plates, she and everyone else within Quinta immediately knew that the Walls they’d once built to keep them safe, had now become their cage.

    Yes, they were cattle, and she thumbed the handle of one of her blades, standing there with a glance over at Amanda who had since quieted, seeing the usual indifference she often displayed on her beautiful, mature features, revealing nothing. Except Rita had known her well enough now that she knew her best friend was thriving. Having the greatest time of her life because she was violence, and violence never slept, it only waited for an opportunity to come around again, like a sickness. Yet another aspect of Amanda she wanted to keep contained by having her as record keeper, but also knowing that though they’d halted the violence that’d exploded within Quinta temporarily following Wall Maria’s fall, it was bound to burst forth again, and she hoped that they would be ready when that time came, as they all slowly spiraled toward their deaths and all she could do was delay it for as long as humanly possible.

    For it was her duty, and she wasn’t about to abandon it yet.
    Last edited by Historia; January 21st, 2022 at 03:05 AM.

  9. #9
    Dead Apostle Eater Historia's Avatar
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    Chapter 6

    Ymir shoveled the last of the dirt over the final grave of those unfortunate people she’d found not far from her chosen shelter, planting it in the ground and falling against it in exhaustion. She stared at her dirty hands, her chipped fingernails, how red they were. How they stung when she pressed them together and rubbed her face. The feeling that she were still alive. Parched, she forced herself to her feet and made a short trip to the steam near the ruined church and where she’d discovered the first body on one of her walks away gathering food. Cupping her hands, she only washed her face and arms of dirt and grime and no more because the water was unclean and therefore unsafe. She would wait until she went back to the ruined church, where she had clean water still in the jars and vases and pitchers not rusted or too worn. Those she buried had largely succumbed to what she’d concluded of something in the water having taken them in their sleep. A parasite, eating away at their brains over the course of several days because they didn’t have the means to boil and clean their water, drinking directly from that stream. She found the rest of them, twenty all — though she was certain there were more, swallowed by the underbrush or dragged away by the wolves and other predators, for she’d found human bones with meat and flesh still upon them, articles of clothing, tattered and bloody remains — shortly thereafter the initial body, strewn around their chosen campsite, hastily prepared, half-frozen and half-eaten, blue-lipped and glassy eyed. Terror stricken. Crumbled inward, faces in varying states of discomfort, plastered upon their faces like clay masks, hands clutching their stomachs and rolled upon their sides, they died in pain. She hoped it’d been quick, but it likely hadn’t been.

    They’d been fleeing the same dangers as she, deciding to settle in this forest of giant trees unknowing or uncaring of its wickedness. So panicked and desperate to brave the death which waited within, she felt for them. Mostly older men and women left to die, but also children, mothers clutching their babies. Sometimes after putting the littlest ones to rest she thought she could hear their cries and wails, but when she went to investigate, risking life and limb in her continued search to find others to share her sorrows, came upon nothing. Not a hair. Only the silent swaying of the trees overhead, the dreadful purpose of these infernal woods revealed as they chortled, stealing their way into her dreams and turning her head and causing her to see and hear that which weren’t truly there. Alone, with only herself and her hallucinations, as always. At one point she'd even wondered if she imagined the survivors, the bodies, the camp, until she caught her foot on a previously concealed skeletal limb, rising out of the earth from rains that miraculously managed to reach the forest floor like an ill omen, confirming her reality but only bringing misery rather than comfort and what she sought most.

    Stripping them of what she could use and nothing more, as a gesture of respect, Ymir had used her hands at first to dig their individual holes before she finally managed to break into the room hidden behind the altar of the ruined church in her subsequent scouring of it after that first night: supplies for the needy from however long ago, stored and preserved.

    Among the contents other than the precious gift of food and drink had been tools she’d been utilizing ever since such as the shovel from the undercroft down below, which had partially collapsed and was too unstable to venture deeper into, utensils and pots and pans for cooking, books for burning, clean clothing; the charity and sympathy of those who poured their hearts and souls into helping the less fortunate, and whom she was forever grateful toward though she would never know their names.

    Walking back to the ruined church, she also had no way of knowing how long she’d been here nor any idea of how long she should stay, but the sun had risen into the sky and sunk beneath the earth several times since. She woke to birds singing their songs among the trees, the days of dark lifting, mist dissolving, and flowers beginning to emerge, bulbous and colorful telltales of winter in its final sighs and the yawning of summer in its revivifying warmth. Yet, though the seasons were in the midst of changing, the voice had yet to return. Without it to guide her she decided to wait, spending those days gathering enough twigs, branches, and whatever else in between foraging for food and drink and practicing her words and drills from time long past resurfacing to build a fire to keep warm and heal her battered and beaten bones, using her newfound freedom to simply relax and gaze up at the stars through the hole in the church’s ceiling at night when she wasn’t out exploring her surroundings and thankful hadn’t come across anything as grisly as what she’d just finished.

    Fascinated by those twinkles of white bright against the night, she often found herself looking at the brightest, most brilliant one, reciting and repeating those words once forgotten and now returned. Words she couldn’t yet place, from whom and from where. Much like the rest of her past; spoken to her by that voice in her head.

    But, as with the letters, words, and phrases which slowly came back to her, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second, moment upon moment, so too would everything else just like these drills, practiced and practiced and had become second nature. Crashing together like two armies locked in ferocious melee, a part of her didn’t want to experience anything more because many of these memories were unpleasant, ugly things. Bloody and piercing and gut spilling horrors that left her weak and helpless. Lost and afraid, until she came to her senses and realized she was no longer there but here, somewhere else. Somewhere warm. Somewhere safe.

    For some reason still unknown to her, Ymir knew that she couldn't stay here forever and would need to continue on. To keep moving still, as the voice inside her head had kept telling her, like those survivors had and knew it, too, despite their many losses, while Marcel’s walking corpse ever kept her company, a constant silent scream in her ear in replacement instead.

    And tonight was the night it spoke again, she thought. She could feel it as she stared into the fire’s heart, watching its flames lick the air and devour the wood, again reciting and repeating those words learned so long ago as wisps of light danced and disappeared and embers fell to the ground: that while words held meaning, names held power.

    They were undying labels, etched on the actions of the past, present, and future; a representation of who you are and what you were; your identity to the rest of the world until the end of time.

    So, then, what was the significance of hers? She’d asked Marcel once, but that’d clearly lead nowhere. Still with no answer, she lumbered back inside the church, glancing up at the beginning of a cloudy, grey morning before settling underneath the podium the same as she’d done her first night and every night after.

    Closing her eyes, she thought of that voice in her head, the one which was cruel, ordering her to get up and march. March eyes straight ahead, facing front, until her feet were sore. March until she couldn’t march anymore. She knew they were different now. Two separate entities occupying the same space within her head. This one was a man’s. It shouted at her, at them, she and her fellow soldiers, issuing a warning that if they didn’t advance then their superiors would do worse things to them than their enemies ever could. No, on the contrary, to be killed by the enemy would be a blessing.

    She remembered his voice over the hum and drops of the shells, over the bullets whizzing past her head, the screams of the dying all around begging and pleading for rescue never to come, and that whistle blowing in her ear. With it came the sight, smell, and feeling of the ground, muddy, blood-drowned, and ridden with holes; the sweat on her brow, rolling down her cheek; the stink of gunpowder, emptied bowels. Of her dirty uniform, the rifle in her small hands grasped tight with knuckles white.

    Ymir had given up trying to put a face to the voice, but couldn’t — her head still hurt something worse than horrible when she did — and she got out from under the podium, deciding to take a walk away from the church and into the wilderness, thinking that by retracing her steps she might more easily make sense of the things which assaulted her mind; these scarlet flashes of pain, and her past which accompanied them, the boy, the voices, and all. It hadn’t worked before either, but the walk helped to calm her nonetheless.

    Marcel, of course, followed.

    Her journey of self-discovery eventually led her to the entrance of another grove within the giant forest. There was a luminous twilight shining through the canopy of the trees, casting silver pools of light upon the ground she now trod, highlighting the many shadows surrounding her. It was under this illumination did she see them clearly: the monsters. That which she never wanted to be again, their eyes shut and bodies still, slumbering. Often on these nightly walks would she encounter them in this exact state, balled up with their hands and knees tucked toward their chest, but not once had she dared do anything other than observe them from afar. This time, though, wishing her want to come true, that the voice would speak again, did she approach one of them.

    The rumble in her heart became quiet. Thinking of her own ugliness, of what she'd been and what she still was, deep down, the voice in her head abruptly changed to that of the other, the woman’s, softly telling her to put her hand upon it, but not why. When she asked, it only said that anything might happen, or nothing at all, the other option being to stay her hand, leave this place, and never learn what she wanted most. She wondered then just how mad she’d been driven, when she then held out her hand, telling herself that, as before, as always, she didn’t have much of a choice.

    With Marcel besides her watching intently, Ymir touched its skin, leathery and warm, and kept it there, waiting for something to happen. Anything, or nothing at all.

    She waited.

    And waited.

    Until, at last, she saw something: a light. A pale orange light outside her peripheral vision, and her head turned so her eyes could take in the full view: a line of wire at the edge of the grove, half-concealed in the forest’s dark and half-revealed in the moon's light. Twisted, haphazard, barbs of razor-sharp, skin-sticking steel wires, and, peering closer, every one of them were trampled, their frames flattened against the earth as faint flickering flames smoldered just beyond identified by thin trails of smoke.

    Ymir took a hesitant step toward the wires, careful not to remove her hand from the flesh of the monster it was against, when there was a hum in the air, turning the quiet in her heart dead silent, and she stopped, frozen still. The sound had come from the flames, deeper in the forest. Deeper in the dark.

    She waited.

    For anything, or nothing at all.

    The hum became louder, and more intense, and with it, footsteps; sloshing heavy beats upon the ground. Each footstep fell with a distinct purpose, a harrowing, and impetus rhythm, toward her.

    Her silent heart sunk down into the depths of her gut, her insides swimming around as she fought to keep it down. Her breath caught in her throat, and she drowned in that silence, the hum a roaring pain to her ears, the footsteps so close she could hear the jostle of bodies, side by side, and the rattle of weapons, rifles, pressed against their shoulders.

    Deathly afraid, she dared pull her hand from the monster though the hum was still there. The footsteps were still there.

    Getting closer, and closer, and closer still, she looked over, but Marcel had vanished along with the forest, she now left staring at not the thick, endlessly high canopy of giant trees but a clear blue sky full of large, round-shaped floating objects peppered by clouds of smoke. And the monsters, yes, they were still there, only they were awake, skinless and steaming crimson towersof muscle and bone and tremendous in their hideousness. They were now rumbling across a vast empty scarred land. Then, she looked down at herself, to the rifle in her small, shaking hands, and her dirty, mud-covered, blood-smeared uniform, again; the bodies all around, ridden with red; broken, puckered children dressed in tattered motley like her own, festering with worms and maggots and torn apart by hungering beasts and all manner of other telling signs of prolonged death and decay. Half-bodies, half-skeletons, limbs and torsos and heads sunk into the earth, sodden and soaking in scarlet muddy swamps and puddles and craters of sickly brown and green.

    It was the terrible day she’d her first taste of combat.

    And ducking her helmeted head as a hammering of artillery burst above her head, a salvo aimed at the Titans so grand it turned the sky black, she was thrown from their shock wave and found herself sprawled on the ground, pulled back into the mud and the blood and the stench of that battlefield she knew well. And unto there she sank, the battlefield a muffled quake to her shell-shocked ears, before a hand reached down and saved her, only to push her once more into the fray.

    It was the man behind the cruelty, her commanding officer, but before she could get a look at him the shadows beyond the wires became the lines of human shapes, and she was ordered to aim the rifle and instinctively she obeyed. She raised the rifle, a natural extension of her body, expertly, and fired at them, and reloaded, and fired, and reloaded, and fired, until it clicked. Until her rounds were spent and then the smoke cleared and she saw even more bodies littering the ground.

    Approaching one, fresh with wounds, face down in the mud, she turned it over with the butt of her rifle, and her eyes widened. Her mouth opened, and she heard something above her, its shadow looming, an enormous hand reaching down, and she screamed, cowering when something hit it, sending it reeling back, steaming. Standing in its place was a woman with a joyous smile and beckoning hand, juxtaposed by fresh corpses torched black and being tossed in with so many others piled high in a mass grave as the scene shifted and strewn all around her were charred bodies, what was left of their rotten, maggot-ridden flesh hanging off their blackened bones, wrapped in tattered uniforms that once might’ve been blue or grey or tan now soiled red.

    Ymir instinctively backed away.

    A dread overtook her because, yes, there was power in a name, and she didn’t want to think what this woman’s might be. Even as a memory, Ymir knew at once that she was dangerous. How vile she was, beneath that voice. Only, just the same as she surmised the things previously unknown and questioned by her would be revealed, the words, phrases, and symbols of her past, through these fragmented and fractured memories too would she remember that woman’s — and the man’s — name, like her own, the boy’s, and thus more about her past and put it to rest and her mind at ease. So, she swallowed her fear and stepped forward, approaching the woman and standing before her, shaking like a wet and wounded dog with its tail between its legs.

    The woman opened her heart to her, and Ymir fell into her arms, burying her face into her breasts. Caring and kind, the woman stroked her hair and whispered to her, telling her that everything was going to be alright. That there was nothing to be afraid of. Though, that was a lie. No amount of comforting embrace or soothing tone would hide the blood thirst behind the woman’s words — that hunger, hidden underneath the mask of an angel skinned alive, of the devil disguised.

    She was the battlefield. Yes, this woman was the nightmare. Its source.

    But, if Ymir wanted to know her purpose for being reborn, she would have to accept the woman. Brave the nightmare. Traverse the battlefield. Wrestle the beast. Strike down the devil and emerge victorious upon the other side.

    She looked up into that face, so very kind.

    She smiled, said okay, before like an infant in her mother’s womb, now a child vying for her mother’s love.

    And that was when the façade ended.

    The woman’s angelic face melted away, taking her left eye along with it, exposing the lidless socket. Her smile became a scowl, the back row of her teeth peeking through the gaping hole of shrapnel-mangled tissue of her upper cheek on that same side. Then, her everything disintegrated, slipping through her fingertips.

    It was like sand.

    Ymir moved her hands toward her chest, and fell to her knees, and then curled up on the spot where the woman had just been.

    In the end, surrounded by the many fallen from that day, did the surviving soldiers chant midst their victory, and it was then that Ymir learned the woman’s name.

    Hail, Helos!

    Hail, Helos!

    Hail, Helos!

    The harsh light of the late morning blinding her when she sat up, hands resting in her lap, head down, Ymir wiped crimson spittle from her mouth and quickly looked around. Those things, the monsters — no, these Titans — hadn't noticed her presence and since moved on.

    Standing up, she yawned, stretched, and then made her way back to the ruined church and to the statues. She stopped to look at them, remembering what they were now.


    They were called angels.

    Spinning around to the rest of the place behind her, she let out a tiny laugh and didn't give them or any of it a second thought as she walked outside into the waking world, one step closer to her past.

    A new world.

    A different world.

    And it was time to find her place in it.
    Last edited by Historia; January 21st, 2022 at 03:07 AM.

  10. #10
    Dead Apostle Eater Historia's Avatar
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    Chapter 7

    Thorpe sat near the edge of Wall Sheena, close to the outlying District of Yarckel; though not so close where the journey between the two would be without struggle. Thus the people of Thorpe had long ago taken upon themselves to be almost entirely self-reliant besides having to acquire fresh water from other sources during seasons of dry spell, usually from the forest not far away bordering Isolde’s farm. Almost everybody lived in small, single-story wooden homes in a wide circle. Their floors were wooden, as well, and lightly covered in hay or grass. Near the ring of houses were longhouses. All livestock and food were located inside these longhouses, separated and sectioned off from one another and maintained in short, rotating shifts by everyone in the village, young and old, and as a result the community was tight-knit because their system kept stress down, work steady, and offered a bit of reprieve from the arduous tasks required to be done day by day, sunrise to sunset.

    Its main purpose was the raising of pigs, chickens, cows, and goats and the production of grains, stalks of wheat, barley, and others she hadn’t been familiar though would in due time, with only the fattest and well harvested hauled off to the Interior, where the harvest was further processed foremost for those citizens within Mitras, the Royal Capital, then the leftovers distributed to everyone else in Wall Sheena, and last — and certainly the least of the Royal Government’s concern, according to Isolde — whatever remained given to the residents in the Underground, all but forgotten by those living on the surface.

    Before the fall of Wall Maria, it was one of several villages that provided primarily for Wall Sheena, but since its very recent fall, resources — which were already scarce enough with an overcrowded population to begin with — were being stretched so thin now as two Walls were forced to provide for what survived of the three, and, if you asked around, had already been somewhat before. With so many “extra” mouths to feed, Isolde said it was simply a matter of time until the Royal Government took drastic measures. That they would probably send a number of the refugees from Maria’s fall somewhere else. Exile them, she’d said. Throw them to the Titans so they wouldn't have to worry about their already limited resources dwindling down to nothing in less than a year forward. If they haven’t already started. In other words, the government plot that’d been on the tip of everyone’s tongue since news of Quinta became widespread.

    This also meant that Thorpe and these other villages were working twice as fast, and producing twice as much, to meet the needs of the people. This being on top of trying to keep themselves adequately provided for, it was difficult, and one thing would be clear if the situation wasn’t relieved in some form: the village of Thorpe would have to seek outside assistance if it was going to survive and save an ample supply before winter reared its head again. Which meant either the surrounding villages within Wall Rose banding together to create a network by which to communicate more efficiently, petitioning to the Royal Government, or waiting for the Scouting Legion to help. The first option was currently being set in motion, with Isolde being one of those on the forefront along with the Thorpe’s leader, a stern man by the name of Walter who had the biggest arms Historia had ever seen, with an equally impressive mane of hair and beard, the second was a waste of time, while the third wouldn’t be around anytime soon as they had to split themselves between aiding all the other villages within the Walls and battling the Titans flooding into Maria. The truth of it was the Scouting Legion were spread more thinly, with less resources, and less soldiers, than the other branches, and couldn’t even spare one soldier: even if that soldier was Isolde’s own daughter’s ashes, if she were indeed deceased. Every soldier in the Scouting Legion served for life, it was in their vows, and ashes were no exception. They would be used to help heal wounds and fertilize the earth, if need be. It was out of the question to ask the Scouting Legion. Nor the Garrison, their hands being full dealing with refugees. And the Military Police only cared for those in the Inner Districts and Mitras. So it could be surmised the villages were on their own for the foreseeable future.

    Now, Historia was getting her bandage replaced after one of these strenuous days’ normal events.

    “It’s healin’ well,” Isolde said, peeking underneath the grimy bandage on her hand before gently unwrapping it completely then setting it aside. There was a visible dark pink and white-edged gash in the center of her palm, and Historia winced when Isolde wet it in alcohol. “But’ll leave a scar alright.”

    Her memory flashed back to the drunken carriage driver, each sting of pain she felt like another slash at his throat. Soon, she was staring at his lifeless body on the dirt road, eyes wide and mouth agape, gazing back up in shock and surprise and by the time the new bandage was on, the pain had subsided and the images of his death faded, too. Yet no word of a body nor the carriage being found, but, rubbing her wrist as she brought her scarred hand closer toward her chest, she wondered how long she should continue to stay here.

    The Fall of Maria was still fresh in many peoples’ minds. The day that red, huge, skinless Titan peered over the Wall, staring down at the citizens of Shiganshina right before the outer gate exploded inward, and then disappeared almost as if it’d never really been there to start, though there were those who swore otherwise. And of the one that broke through the second gate, the inner gate, into the territory of Wall Maria itself, which cannons had no effect on, and spewed fire from its mouth, its body armored head to toe. Then, the news of Quinta, a sister District to Shiganshina that was surrounded during their evacuation, those within its gates barely managing to shut them in time before a similar fate befell them, as well. Subsequent whispers of the aforementioned government plot, a last resort, that villages such as Isolde’s were being pushed to prevent; it wasn’t safe for either her or the people living here. Eventually, they would find her. They would silence her. Then she wouldn’t be able to learn the truth about her family, about her father, whether the stories he’d raved and ranted of weren't just that: stories. Perhaps they were already already on their way.

    Historia looked up from her hand, watching Isolde prepare their late evening meal. She was a tough old woman, not as old as she looked, years’ worth of hardship having taken its toll, and since becoming a part of her world three weeks ago to the day after she first stole her way in, had immediately put her to work around her farm.

    Actually an extension of the house farther out in the territory, this farm was one of the few larger properties connected to the village and was responsible for herding sheep that weren’t kept in the village like the rest of the livestock for fear of wolves, their main predator — though on occasion bears and badgers and foxes were spotted, too — setting down different crops like corn and potatoes, and producing bales and stacks from vast abundance of wheat, barley, and rye in the fields.

    The work seemed far too large for one person alone.

    But, according to those in the village, Isolde managed just fine by herself until she or Achi came along, excluding the help she occasionally got from the village children whose families were indebted to her for some reason or another, and those individuals who simply wanted to help. Which wasn't so rare a thing around these parts, Historia soon found out. And when Isolde wanted your help, it was in your best interest to oblige. Nothing going on within the village escaped her eyes, and more than once Historia was caught loitering, hiding away in some corner of the farm while the others worked. A habit that had its consequences, for while she wasn’t beaten, the bruises and sores which regularly covered her body and dirt and sweat her clothing and tiredness her eyes from the extra work she’d received as recompense was more than enough punishment for her not to do it again. Or, rather, not so blatantly, anymore. Though she wasn’t yet certain if Isolde had caught on to that, either, and she had to be careful. To think it’d already become a common thing for her now, working and tolling and slaving away like the rest of them in fewer than a month’s time… though it really was nothing she wasn’t used to before, under a different light. Except, unlike before, when other people would look at her, they saw a delicate creature taken in by a lonely mother. Their stares, their whispering, their accusations and assumptions. They wouldn't go away. Things had changed, but not for the better, exchanging one for the other, and at times it honestly felt like nothing ever truly would.

    Historia hated that word: nothing.

    She could never escape it no matter which way she turned. Left, right, up, down, north, east, south, west; it didn't matter, and, catching a glimpse of a mouse as it scurried back into its hole in the wall, whether she was one of these mice that scurried along the floor, or one of the hawks that circled outside in the skies above, waiting for them out in the open to snatch them up, she didn’t know.

    Was she the mouse, or the hawk? Was she the sheep, or the wolf? Was she something to be used, like her mother and father before her? Or something to be cherished, like Isolde always reminded her?

    While she was learning a great deal in her time here — most notably the importance of herbs and medicine — from Isolde, a relatively peaceful existence mending the locals’ various cuts and scrapes wasn't enough.

    Her hand closed into a fist. It hurt.

    It just wasn't enough.

    She was still nothing.

    She was still worthless.

    Night approached swiftly, and Historia was just finishing up in Isolde’s study when she chanced upon a book tucked away in a crevice, well-hidden and well-worn.

    Isolde’s study was one of the first things Historia had been introduced to on the farm. After her first attempts at lying low failed, in exchange for the extra work she’d been given free reign of it so long as she also kept it well-maintained, and, as far as rewardswent, it was well worth the extra work. Through the books in the study, she knew better all the things Isolde taught her about medicine, herbs, ointments, and ailments and the mending of those cuts and scrapes. The truth and technique behind them. That there was one she overlooked was a delight because she previously thought she’d read every single one of them twice over already and was hungering for something new.

    It’d been sitting there for some time.

    She blew on the front and wiped the dust off and opened to its first page, seeing it blank, then began to leaf through the next several pages expecting it to be full of diagrams and instructions related to medicine and bodily functions like the rest. For an old woman who spent most of her time instructing others in how to properly rack a field, Isolde having a serious study that smelled of moldy paper and dry ink was a welcome, if not entirely unexpected, surprise and certainly whatever was contained in this book would offer no difference nor disappointment. Upon a first look it seemed exactly that: just another in-depth examination of the body, inside and out, detailing everything from skin to muscle to bone but with one distinct problem: it was in a text she couldn’t read.

    While she could decipher that names were given to each part examined, what appeared to be with a brief description or two of their make-up, functions, and about the specimen itself, there were also strange measurements and weights, unorthodox comparisons and differences, a plethora of information about something that looked like an intricate, connected root with its stem at the head. It was a size and body of work much more advanced than anyone within the Wall excluding what physicians in Mitras might be capable of understanding let alone using and only until she attempted to sound out some of what was written on the pages that the realization dawned on her: these were just like her father’s ramblings only in written form.

    She was sure of it. These words, these symbols, this… language … Historia had heard it before.

    Lost in his stories about the whole lot who’d done their family wrong, she’d heard her father often mumble to himself using words and phrases nobody understood. To most, the whines of a washed-up alcoholic, once noble and now a pauper, but, to a few, to her he’d been trying to say something. Something unspoken, which couldn’t be uttered openly. Something damning, and horrible. Something that sent those men to murder him, her mother, and have her taken away, the men in black who carried out the deed.

    And if she wanted to know whether his stories were real or ramblings, she’d have to seek them out. Learn more than just the words on a page and uncover the truth behind her father’s — her family’s — descent in obscurity under the watchful eyes of the Royal Government and nearly severed forever in the immediate aftermath of Wall Maria’s fall.

    Historia closed the book and put it back where it lay. She wouldn’t ask about it even though the old woman didn’t seem like the kind of person to hold many secrets. The fact that her father wasn’t completely delusional was enough. The fact that she still lived, was enough. Thus, her next course of action would be to find a way to Mitras. Records, reports, registries, documents, notes; anything that might help her discover more about her family’s history. About the Reiss noble bloodline. Only, they knew her face. Showing it in the Royal Capital would be foolish and her father hadn’t died to see the last of his legacy willingly give herself to the wolves. No, she would have to become that wolf, and claw her enemies to shreds. Cut out their throats like they did her mother’s. Sink her teeth into the truth, and not let go. She already had blood on her hands, after all.

    But she couldn’t do it as she was. She couldn’t do it alone.

    And it was then she remembered: Isolde's daughter.

    Her only daughter.

    Her real daughter.

    The old woman spoke a lot about her; about her being a soldier in the military and one of the protectors of humanity. A member of the Scouting Legion, the only branch of the military to extend their arms outside the Walls and face humanity’s greatest threat head-on. Said that, in the end, Riecka and the others were the only thing between them and those things many in Interior believed didn’t actually exist. Their saviors, putting their lives on the line for a cause greater than themselves, and their martyrs, dying for that very same cause in humanity's struggle to survive against the Titans. Those things, those monsters which breached Wall Maria and its lands within. Two of them, the Colossus and Armored — as they’d been officially named by the Royal Government — being the ones personally to blame. Those two, specifically, needed to be dealt with before they breached Wall Rose, too, and Sheena after, and that the military's soldiers would stop them. That the Scouts would stop them. That they would eventually take back Wall Maria and drive the Titans out.

    She couldn't rely on the Military Police. They would be on the lookout for her. Nor the Garrison, who were a lax bunch of drunkards, quicker to sell her out for their next mug than help her. But, the soldiers in the Scouting Legion. They were people to be proud of. People worth value; fighting for what they believed and sacrificing themselves for what humanity might accomplish in beating the Titans once and for all.

    Historia stared at her feet, the book back in the corner, and whispered her father's words beneath her breath, adding to it.

    From here on, your name is Krista Lenz, a soldier of humanity.

    A savior.

    A martyr.

    A wolf.

    A person worth value.


    And she knew where she needed to go next.
    Last edited by Historia; January 21st, 2022 at 03:09 AM.

  11. #11
    Dead Apostle Eater Historia's Avatar
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    Chapter 8

    Up until this past week, Mathias had ever seen a Titan in person once, many years ago by way of an associate of his father’s who allowed them access to the top of Wall Maria high above Quinta’s rooftops; some royal official or authority within the military, as even wealth couldn’t buy passage to everything one wanted in life. It was there he first laid his eyes upon one of those things, bounding over that vast emptiness, barely visible. Like a dark splotchy stain on a large patch ofa green and brown tunic. While his father hadn’t been the slightest impressed or fearful of it, Mathias had been in awe. In wonder, still too young and sight too far to see what they truly were, and now, sitting with his knees against his chest, he sorely wanted to go back to that time. A time when his nightmares were shapeless haunts of imaginations instead of being filled with these things with faces not unlike his own, peeling the skin from their faces with glee.

    This was the third time he’d ever seen a Titan up close.

    Having taken what Bernhardt proclaimed was only to be a “short detour” that stretched on throughout the past few days and finally reached its end this evening, the five of them had gone down a break in the river a ways from the village, following not the clearest path that was to eventually lead them straight into Quinta with the utmost haste, free of needless sightseeing, but the pronounced trail of a Titan. Just when he thought what he wouldn’t have to encounter one of them again, and yet here was again, sitting on his ass doing nothing except thinking of Rita and how much he regretted his current company while waiting for Bernhardt and Jarratt to stop poking around the skeletal remains of this Titan Klaus had stumbled across on one of his lookouts and woken them all up to see.

    Well, stumbled across might be a poor choice of wording, considering it’d been so colossal as to have been visible from the river, lying on its side above the treetops, monumental even by Titan standards or so Bernhardt claimed upon seeing it, mustached raised in childish wonderment. Though, Much to his initial disappointment about an hour ago, it’d been dead for some time, blocking the stream’s flow with its blackening bones, rapidly decomposing under the sun and only slowed due to the last embrace of the bitter cold.

    Though if anyone else in the group shared his sentiments, his, any sense of urgency or of shock and dread or lack of sleep wasn’t to be found among them.

    Even before the expedition had set off, their carefree, nonchalant attitude had been a stand out among the many volunteers and soldiers all pressed together, wagon to wagon, horse to horse, shoulder to shoulder, but, now, especially now, after the village, the argument, this still antagonizing wait when they should’ve been in Quinta already, Mathias concluded they weren’t normal. That they, too, were bloody monsters behind masks not unlike his own.

    And if Bernhardt could be believed, Suzanne was, too.

    He shifted, feeling the weight of the shotgun pressing against his thigh. It was such a small thing, Bernhardt’s words, and yet they revealed so much and he didn’t like the implications because he knew that Suzanne’s life hadn’t been a happy one.

    From what little she’d spoken of her past, Suzanne was an orphan, like Rita, the majority of her youth spent beneath Mitras in the Underground, and given that Bernhardt was former Military Police it was highly likely they’d crossed paths down there.

    Only the highest achievers from the Training Corps were able to join the Military Police, which meant for Bernhardt to have fallen so low as to be expelled he’d been caught doing something especially heinous that couldn’t have just been swept aside. Murder, yes. Mathias had witnessed that first hand, after all. But what if whatever he’d done was somehow worse? And though he was a thief, a fugitive, an outlaw, the law would never actually catch him because he was once one of them. He was the Royal Government, he was the people within the Walls, and he damn well knew it.

    So then, what did that mean about Suzanne?

    Mathias shuddered.

    “Hey, looks like the Boss found something,” Nikki said beside him. “Wonder what it is?”

    “Don’t care,” Klaus quickly replied, not looking up from cleaning his rifle.

    But before Mathias could do the same, Nikki bent down and slapped him on the shoulder.

    “Come on, let’s go!”


    Reluctantly getting to his feet, Mathias rubbed his shoulder and plodded along after her. At least it was better than getting more sores on his behind doing nothing.

    Pinching his nose as he joined her at the stream’s bank, they’d first caught more than a glimpse of how massive this particular had truly been beyond a ridge, floating face down in the river. At first, Mathias hadn’t even recognized it as a Titan, it’d been covered in so much muck and debris from the bottom of the river that by the time they ascended to get a closer look based on Bernhardt’s optimistic reassurance that it was, in fact, dead, its flesh and organs had all but completely melted away and its bones were in an accelerated state of decay from the inside out. It may as well be a bundle of giant, rotted trees trunks, struck down during a storm or other natural occurrence.

    “Race you to the top?” Nikki asked, turning to face him with a grin. But, once again, she answered for him and then punched him in the chest. Hard and precise, right where it hurt the most, on the badge they’d given all volunteers still pinned to his shirt. The pin pricked a little through the skin near his nipple and he winced when she started climbing and forced him to follow with choice in the matter, hurrying to catch up while he could hardly comprehend how they were the same age.

    Careful as he bellied up what he believed might’ve been the Titan’s leg, his thoughts went back to their first “official” meeting, as Bernhardt had so cheerily put it, his mug of ale raised aloft, in a stuffy, cramped room, closed off from the rest of the bar where the clamor dropped away, squished awkwardly between her and Klaus, the former sneaking him a wink behind the rim of her own mug.

    Out of Bernhardt’s gang of outlaws, Nikki was the “the rose among the weeds”. The only one to share a little about her previous profession as a promising apprentice to a renowned clock builder, watch maker, and occassional locksmith before they’d set off that very next morning, she’d been caught breaking into a nobleman’s safe instead of fixing it like she was supposed to, where it was later found that she’d been peddling her master’s works off on the illegal market of which Bernhardt had acquaintances. She would’ve lost her hand if not for his timely intervention. A tale which the old soldier had gladly given his account, adding embellishment to her own and adding resisting arrest on top of thievery and exploitation to her record and doubtless just a drop in a bucket in comparison with his own.

    Which made Mathias wonder. Something he was doing a lot more of, lately.

    Nearly five decades worth of cheating the Royal Government and the people within the Walls, with all the Underground connections he could use even after his expulsion, and yet a man of Bernhardt’s status chose to enlist the help of Nikki, a girl of eighteen. Odd, to say the least, but, it was a question that could wait and was unimportant until they reached Quinta. Making certain Rita was safe, she and her parents, was his sole priority right now, as he focused on the rods dangling from Nikki’s belt.

    She was already moving from the Titan’s pelvis to the bottom of its spine, digging her stolen boots into one of the fins that jut out which were once its vertebrae and balancing herself out before she walked across its length and was at the bottom of the rib cage by the time he managed the same.

    The two of them standing there, the moon low and first rays of sunlight peeking over the horizon, he imagined Rita in her place, the two of them on that stony bridge two years ago, the day of her graduation celebration and her first bodyguard duty: walking him home. Much to his chagrin. But, having lost three to one on the matter, he’d decided to use the opportunity to convey his feelings for her into words. Or, rather, congratulating her for the decision but peering at her thumb over the hilt of one of the blades anxiously, biting back his tongue in saying that it didn’t really suit her — the life of a soldier — fumbling on what he actually meant to say, stealing a look at her profile instead…

    Why, it’s love, Mathias.

    To think that everyday his father had the time for him, drilling into his brain all kinds of knowledge, from stock fulfillment, sales strategies, and managerial techniques to methods of ingratiating oneself with the Royal Government, he still managed to lack experience on the most basic things.

    He’d styled himself a kind of guardian who watched out for her, but perhaps the opposite had been true. She hadn’t the refined looks of girls from the privileged families his father paraded around him but there’d been a definite beauty in her fresh vitality. More than anyone else Mathias had known then or now. Stridently individual and amazingly strong and furnished with an unshakable sense of right and wrong, that was the Rita he knew. The girl he claimed to love.

    Yes, he imagined her, standing here, right here, beside him again on the bridge and smiled, within his reach once more, wanting to say those words he felt swelling in his heart, until he was swiftly brought back to the present by Nikki, whose face materialized above him.

    “What’re you spacing out for?”

    He blinked, staring at her outstretched hand. She was leaning over the side of the one of the Titan’s rib bones, straddling it as if she were riding a horse.

    Accepting it, she pulled him up. “Figured you could use a lift.”

    She was really close, and he turned away with a blush. “T-thank you…” he said.

    “Don’t mention it!” she replied, thwacking him upside the head.

    Sighing as she wasted no time in hopping across its rib cage in impressive leaps and bounds, Nikki was no Rita, that he was sure of. And, fingering the mark her palm was sure to leave, her punches were starting to hurt worse.

    “Look what we have here, lad and lass!” Bernhardt exclaimed when they finally reached him and Jarratt at the Titan’s nape right below the head, or skull, in this case. In his large hands was a stick of some sort, and he passed it to Nikki, who made a gesture using it like a toothpick — which looked utterly ridiculous given its size — but it earned a jolly laugh from Bernhardt, before she tossed it his way.

    Catching it with a loud grunt, it was an embarrassing wasted effort as it was surprisingly lightweight. Holding it closer, Mathias noticed the grooves at one end and what looked to have been something secured to it, like a stone, but it possibly couldn’t be what he thought.

    In response, as if to confirm his suspicion, Jarratt held up a chipped spearhead and Bernhardt nodded. How long had it taken him to find that?

    “It appears we aren’t alone out here, lad.”

    Looking around, but not down, it made him queasy just thinking about it, how close to the edge and a drop into the murk below they all were, Mathias lowered the spear. “Who could…” his voice trailed off. Who could be crazy enough to be out here? he was about to say, but, well, he was out here, too.

    “Whoever it is, they know how to down a Titan,” Jarratt said, now in possession of the spear, putting the pieces together in an amateur tinkerer’s wonderment. He’d been a humble butcher before becoming a part of Bernhardt’s gang. They’d discovered this back at the village, shortly before their run-in and flight from that horror.

    “To fell a Titan with nothing but a tool used for skewering deer and boar! A feat unheard of and should be sung throughout the land! Best we not linger here any longer, in any case.” For the second time, Bernhardt dropped his usual cadence. “We should hurry on, quickly.”

    When they were safely away, far away, from the Titan’s corpse, only then was it that Bernhardt went back to his usual self again.

    They were in yet another forest of giant trees, letting the horses rest. The sun was now low in the sky. Above their heads was many-layered foliage, the highest level of which seemed to extend into the stars themselves further dimming the sun's already waning light so its reddish glow hardly reached the ground.

    "Only a couple hours now, lad!" Bernhardt said. He’d gotten down from his horse, but with his height and size appeared to still be atop it. He finished stretching and turned to admire his horse. "Beautiful, isn't he? Ah! What’s that look for, lad! We’re almost there! No more sidetracking for all my curiosities are sated!”

    Oh, how he hoped so. Mathias gazed up at the trees, thinking he saw the Wall not far beyond, whereupon Klaus’s mocking tone and cold words came back to pester him and so close to his goal that he thought that perhaps it was true that he did indeed lack the nerve. That perhaps he’d been naive to turn his back on the Royal Government, to forgo all dependence on his father, his trust in Suzanne, to try and survive in a world he was kept safe from for all his life, in the company of these villains, relying on them to get him where he desperately wanted despite vowing to rely on his own wit and grit to save Rita instead, what they’d do to him if he was lying, if nothing was there, displaced, ransacked, taken away… Perhaps he’d been naive, but, regardless… He…

    The matter-of-fact way Bernhardt killed the soldier, then fired the anchor at the Titan. The look on his face, detached somehow from the events taking place… Was that it? Was that the look of someone who had the nerve? Was that how Mathias had to be? The man hadn't done anything wrong, and yet… His eyes went down to his shoes, searching for an answer he couldn't find. An explanation as to why, even though the soldier was killed, murdered in cold blood, that he wasn't as upset as he should've been. His hands curled into fists at his side. His blood began to boil, putting fire in his belly, and almost as if sensing his mounting impatience, the realization he’d come to, deep down in his heart, when Bernhardt strode toward him, stepping over fallen leaves and undergrowth like a bear. He patted him on the shoulder with a dark amusement behind his otherwise unassuming blue eyes.

    "Have faith, lad. We’ll make it in time.”

    Mathias shrugged off his touch. They could have been there by now if it wasn’t for the old soldier’s whims that changed so readily and made him uneasy — and another reason why they shouldn’t have even stopped — and as soon as they were and their deal done he wanted nothing more than to part ways.

    Lest he only have murderers to talk to.

    Or appallingly, somehow become one himself.
    Last edited by Historia; January 21st, 2022 at 03:11 AM.

  12. #12
    Dead Apostle Eater Historia's Avatar
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    Chapter 10

    Their work tending to the wants and woes of the remaining peoples of Quinta had taken their toll on Rita and Amanda who continued to serve as her record keeper on request, not as an order. It’d been a couple of days from the first, just the two of them and Nicholas on the door, who was given the additional duty of announcing the beginning of the day’s session, then letting the citizens, their entrances and their departures, names and titles all, in one by one or two if together and rarely greater than three because the mayor’s office though once extravagantly furnished and now not had been smaller than it appeared, even with all its needless things removed. From out the window the throng of people forming a single line each morning that’d stretched out into the plaza and had been kept civil by Duccio still in his temporary role as her second-in-command and had elicited a witty quip from Amanda that first morning and quickly fizzled much like her patience with the amount of ink she went through and pages she filled of mostly mundane, trivial concerns that weren’t anything they could really do in way of solution outside of promises and well-wishes, Rita had come to realize that maintaining the status quo was going to be much more arduous than she ever anticipated. Even if she had found notes to help her in the endeavor, they wouldn’t have amounted to anything. Were it that Doris didn’t already have her hands full assisting Henning, the help would’ve been appreciated! Her mother only gave one piece of advice and that was to smile and nod, to give the impression that at all times the citizens’ complaints were being heard. She’d also taken Amanda aside and joked with her, though about what neither of them had been keen to share, but whatever it was seemed to have its effect on her best friend because she hadn’t quit yet despite the challenge. Not that this stopped Amanda from coming and going when she pleased afterwards, of course.

    Truth be told, the three of them were doing quite well, everything considered, and so it was Rita thought to keep her own spirits up until, gradually, the throng became a steady stream, never ending — and today what they’d hoped to be short and simple because they’d started earlier than usual, with little rest in between, and could’ve used the respite: listening to, resolving, and writing down complaints and transgressions of those still within Quinta — had unfortunately dragged on well into the late evening. When they started, the sun had been a haze of orange against milky blue. By the time they were done, the sky was dark, blackest she’d ever seen it, with what remained of the sun hidden behind darker clouds still. It was going to rain, and she wasn’t looking forward to the reports of someone slipping on the cobblestones and cracking open their skull or if it thundered and roiled and the rain was heavy the added burglaries under their cover. She’d have to triple the usual shifts tonight, and groaned. Calling in one of her three assistants, Thomas answered and she asked him to find the list of those soldiers currently off-duty.

    After he nodded his understanding and was gone, she pinched her brow, and squinted, coming away with a smudge of black ink and greenish-grey sweat. It took everything within her in that moment not to flop back down in the chair she’d replaced the mayor’s with. It was one of those behind the front desks on the first floor of the district hall, and while she’d much rather relax, Rita knew her day wasn’t over yet, only half-hearing what Amanda was saying when she threw open the door unannounced, telling Nicholas to shut the door behind them. Her best friend pulled up a chair from a side corner, turned it backwards, and sat down with her arms crossed atop. Waving a hand about, she made comment about her still being shut in up here, doing work, instead of literally anything else. Like relaxing up on the Wall, as Amanda was want to do regularly now; the chilling breeze this time of the year and that was soon to be ending with the coming of warmer weather helped soothe the sting of the burns along her arms and face and upper chest between neck and collarbone and wherever else her bare skin had been exposed to Titan’s blood, painful and slow to heal, or so she claimed. Without having to see, Rita could tell she was already nearly recovered; Amanda, strangely, always tended to bounce back into shape no matter the injury, and by the sound of her voice this continued to be the case, but she was too busy using every last remaining drop of concentration to gather up her multitude of papers and sheets, starting with the ones long dried, to acknowledge this.

    When she had, catching something Amanda said regarding the two shouting sisters they’d dealt with earlier in the morning who’d hurled insults back and forth without shame, firing spit into the air and catching them in the crossfire, she wiped her fingers and dabbed her face lightly with a cloth before tying the first bundle and handing it off. Naturally, Amanda paid little heed to delicacy and grabbed the bundle one handed, then dropped it on the shelf behind her with a dusty thud. At that, Rita frowned. She was too close to the point of exhaustion to show her distaste in any other fashion, her thoughts drifting back to that hearing in particular. Their very first of the day, which had set the tone and was the beginning of their mounting frustration and, now, yes, fatigue, for the rest of it.

    Although they’d bore no physical resemblance to each other, one short and chubby, the other tall and skinny, the fact that they were siblings couldn’t have been more apparent. Even to an only child like her. And they’d fought not only with harsh words and bristled tongues but elbow jabs and crooked fingers, at one point coming to actual blows that’d leave bruises when Amanda had been too slow to act. Whether on purpose or because the stress was weighing her down, too, Rita could only guess but assumed it to be the former. Yet another reprimand for her was required, Rita knew, but onto the list it had gone, never to be spoken of again, like the rest. Because she needed her.

    And having listened longer than she would’ve liked to those sisters bicker and snap and roll their eyes after letting them go on for a time after, she’d finally intervened when the younger sister’s voice trailed off in a lull, her eyes glossing over no doubt recounting a gruesome memory as her mind seemed to close itself off for the briefest of moments. Amanda, meanwhile, after breaking them up, had gone back to diligently jotting down everything being said, not seeing it nor much caring for their tale of woe told in sobs and cries.

    In short, the younger sister had been living with her father, while the older sister had married and moved away. Then, when the evacuation began, the younger left Quinta with her father. During which they were attacked by Titans, their wagon destroyed, and her — their — father killed, no doubt eaten alive. The younger sister had witnessed the entire thing, a Garrison soldier rescued her, and she’d barely made it back to Quinta with her life. The older sister, who blamed the younger for their father’s death, and leaving them — “us”, she put it, meaning the older sister, her husband, and their children — was poor and had sold off most of their belongings in the madness that day to try and purchase a wagon of their own; which they wouldn’t have been forced to do if the younger sister thought to take them along. But then they might not have had this very conversation. Nor was the younger sister fit to converse, still in some manner of shock about the ordeal. And, yet, here she was, locked in a fierce battle with her older sister who’d remained in Quinta over the ownership of their father’s belongings that still resided at home.

    Such greed. Such spirit. Rita had been both repelled and impressed in equal measure. And if she were someone driven by her emotions, might’ve also been compelled to side with the younger sister as the tears fell and her face crinkled, showing her ugliness under an otherwise beautiful, blemish-free complexion. Perfection laying bare its cracks.

    And, yet, the situation wasn’t so clear-cut as it seemed.

    The younger sister had, essentially, wanted compensation. Some material benefit to give meaning to the horror and desperation she’d experienced, or, perhaps, to fill the hole in her heart. It appeared she had been single her entire life. Having devoted herself to her father, it was possible she had never owned anything of value that she could truly say was hers, either. But the other, the older sister, was, in her own way, desperate too. So much that she couldn’t even properly mourn her father’s passing. Instead, she was willing to come to physical blows with her very own sister over his worldly possessions to buy back what they could of her own family’s.

    And while Rita could sympathize with both of their plights, she’d quickly come to her decision: the whole of Quinta was still in crisis, and she couldn’t spend all her time dealing with private matters.

    Besides the need of necessities like food and water that were soaring because one of the first acts she’d declared was the preservation of their long-term stores from the winter were to be off limits, and though it’d been less than a week since they were first trapped behind Quinta’s walls, and though the looting had for the most part been crushed, again burglary and such was on the rise in kind. Subtler ways of getting what was wanted, craved, lusted. Reports were consistently arriving on her desk of several individuals who’d tried their hand at forcing their way into the storerooms at the inner gate. Grappling with the guards she’d initially placed there, Duccio briefed her that they’d need more soldiers, which she’d approved, and Amanda suggested to arm them with rifles at all times, to dissuade would-be thieves, which she’d denied. The presence of firearms, loaded or otherwise, under the light of day would only serve to make the situation worse. Instead she had all firearms locked away, excluding for night duties atop the Wall, and that was primarily for Titan sightings. And much as she wanted to help the people with their personal problems, her own duty did extend outside the district hall, and nothing would truly change if she continued to stay behind a desk. Nothing would change, if she sat around while Amanda did all the hard work.

    So, she’d lied.

    Letting the younger sister maintain all assets left behind by their father, she told them that their value would be assessed when her replacement arrived, then divided evenly between the two of them once whomever it was did so. Until then, she’d have the house and its belongings monitored.

    In truth, she hadn’t the men to spare and by passing the real decision onto this non-existent Royal Government appointee, one of those same who’d also raided the vaults and storehouses of the district hall during the evacuation and taken everything with them just as her mother suspected they’d do and kept harping about, the rest of it was out of her hands, officially.

    It was all she’d cared to do.

    Thus the two sisters left without exchanging a glance, more or less satisfied with the outcome, and Rita had noted that they’d looked more alike from behind, if anything.

    And if Amanda caught her in that lie, she didn’t say anything or indicate otherwise, either. Not during, not after, not now. Nor did she bother to say goodbye, as she promptly made her exit now because she had patrols, eager on resuming her previous duties regardless of her traumas.

    It was then that Rita thought she couldn’t rely on Amanda anymore and turned to the window, noting those dreary clouds, thumbing the handle of one of her blades as something cold, something ugly settled in her heart where warmth had once been. Because it was time to grow up and use her words.

    The following day, Rita was marking all the reports that were the result of the weather. A grand total of thirteen people had unfortunately lost their lives in the storm overnight. Whether it was by their own hand or that of another, the heavy rains and intense lightning which first came with spring, it was thirteen too many for Rita’s liking. So, to combat this, she’d ordered everyone to stay within reasonable proximity of the district hall in the neighborhoods closer to the outer gates along the river cutting down the middle of the District and not to stray too far from within designated areas in which they were allowed, with one average single-story residence to be shared between individuals while families greater than four — of which there were unsurprisingly several — were housed in the two-stories so as not to separate them. This was, ironically, in part to keep them further away from the Titans, as there were now more of them within the territory of Wall Maria than outside of it, rendering the original purpose of Quinta pointless. The other part of this was the weather itself. Fires sprang up and spread fast this time of year, according to a few of the older concerned citizens who had lived through past occurrences and were kind to share their experiences, thus being by the river they could hopefully put out any fires more efficiently. The positioning also provided them with a means to fish, to collect water, and to generally ease their minds while the Garrison dealt with the threat unabated. The only problem — that shouldn’t have been, because at least they were alive, in her mind — was that these houses were of far lesser quality, leading to what she could only describe as an undeserved sense of entitlement.

    Many felt with the population halved, they were privy to certain freedoms, intent on occupying the richer estates near to the inner gate where she had chosen to house the Garrison and, under special circumstance, their immediate families, as the inner gate was where the barracks, now being stripped and torn down to be used in building barricades and fortifications along Quinta’s walls and inner gate, and storerooms, locked and under guard, were located.

    While, yes, Mathias’s father was a primary factor, both its benefactor and beneficiary, in this, favoring his side of the District over the rest, the blame ultimately went to the Royal Government and their decision to unevenly distribute the necessary resources to help the Districts not within Wall Sheena to thrive, leading them to rely on their local officials and the generosity of the various villages within their territory more-so than they should’ve needed. This, in turn, led to less than ideal living conditions that apparently continued to persist, on top of the announcement of a new curfew she’d enacted in an attempt to prevent anymore midnight tragedies like last night.

    It was all a headache, and she was exhausted already even though the day had only just begun.

    That night, Rita dreamed.

    It was a dream she used to have regularly, but with everything that’s happened, this was the first time in a while.

    In it, she stood motionless in the doorway to a room she didn’t recognize. Sunlight streamed through the windows, but the room was eerily black. There was a table. Some chairs. Against the wall, the shadow of a person. A grown man. He was crouched down, huddled into a ball. Her vantage point was low, still a child, younger yet than when she and Mathias had first met. Gently, she placed a hand on the man’s back. It lacked any warmth. His face, she knew well. That she’d definitely seen somewhere before. One that she couldn’t bring to mind, the person it belonged to. This man. As if the memory of him had simply chosen to abandon her. The man cradled a wooden box in his arms, leaning on it. Limp, perhaps even asleep. On the floor next to the man’s feet as a small vial about the size of her little finger, maybe a bit bigger. A few drops remained inside. A transparent liquid.

    She shook him, but he didn’t wake.

    Deep was his love for the wooden box.

    And standing there, staring at the man against the floor in the dark, Rita could smell the faint stench of decay...
    Last edited by Historia; January 21st, 2022 at 03:13 AM.

  13. #13
    Dead Apostle Eater Historia's Avatar
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    After leaving the church, gradually, bit by bit, the faint whispers from her life before which she’d glimpsed via the cadence of marching boots and war drums was becoming discernible than as feverish palettes of dark and dreary color. Mainly and more of her first battle which had been fought long ago, yes, but also of two times that she couldn’t place either before or after it. One involved a bed, with that woman, Helos, standing over her and saying something as she stroked her hair. The room was black, blacker than pitch, and Ymir had only known it to be Helos because of the necklace she wore. She remembered this necklace vividly: a misshapen crystal tied on the end of a string. Woven into it had been a wide spectrum of colors, from frigid blues and glittering silvers to rampaging reds and blazing oranges, prosperous violets and scattered yellows, and many more, each one luminous as a star and each one brighter than the last. These majestic colors seemed to shift with her words, her demeanor, the rise and fall of her voice. One moment calm, like a beach, white-foamed waves come with the tide, receding to reveal dazzling gems and pearls from water’s bottom, then bursting forth with horrors unfettered, back unto the battlefield once again as this beach was soaked in misery galore, until it settled and what were the remains of those dead: blotchy skin, dried eyes, and gray tongues, pallid faces cracking crimson, gazing at nothing beyond the grave, bloated and bursting bodies, swathed in hues so grotesque and vapid she didn’t want to see them anymore, turning her head. All the while, Helos’s expression changed from either dour or blissful, no in-between, for it didn’t have to be seen, only felt in her words. No sorrow, no pity, no regrets; just revelry in violent acts and worse outcomes.

    Multiple times Ymir attempted to decipher what was being said to her, but the only thing that entrenched itself in her mind was a strong sense of revulsion. A revulsion of everything Helos was, everything she’d been, and whatever Ymir had now become, herself.

    The other dream involving the man, her commander, and another woman — a different woman than Helos — had them pacing up and down inspecting a lineup of uniformed young children. The man’s face largely obscured by the cap he kept pointed downwards casting shade, Ymir still wasn’t any nearer to finding out what he looked like, while the woman had silver hair tucked eccentrically between cloth threads earthly brown under a dark red crown of thorns that looked uncomfortable; closer akin to spikes of dried blood atop some poor soul’s moonlit bones. Both wore uniforms not dissimilar to the children they inspected, and though she’d come to learn the man had once been her commanding officer, this woman was still a mystery even after getting glimpses of her face.

    Her dreams switched between the two frequently, brought upon by those blinding flashes of red. Piercing pains against her frontal lobe, bombarding her with frequent fragments, each night, every night, to the point where she got little sleep for fear that simply shutting her eyes would induce another skull-splitting headache.

    In each dream, out of all the other words spoken she could make out, one stuck with her: progenitor.

    Emphasized by Helos’s discomposing tales and her commander’s whipping tongue, it was a word which held no meaning to her as she was, but must’ve been important at some point. Why else would it be so prevalent in her dreams? Regardless, it was just one part in a larger puzzle that she wanted nothing to do with. She just wanted them, these dreams, these nightmares, all of it, to stop. Except in order for that to happen she had to learn more about the significance, if any, of her name and why she was forced into such a life of punishment, and who, or what, was responsible. She had to first reawaken the monster if she wanted to ever hope of overcoming it.

    Only then could she rest.

    Only then could she finally be free.

    But until that time came, she was back to her original goal of finding people, shelter, a place to put her head that wasn’t another tree now that the ruined church was however far behind her.

    She had to keep moving.

    Still traveling through the giant forest, attempting to find the way out, Ymir had been surviving on scattered nuts fallen from trees and handfuls of berries from shrubbery and whatever leftover meat clung to the remains of animals killed by emerging predators or an otherwise unfortunate fate. Though she’d spent some of her freedom at the ruined church mimicking past practices and habits that had once been routine, she didn’t have the means to hunt them on her own, and even if she did while her strength had returned her lack of sleep made her off-balance, ready to keel over as it took all her concentration not to continuously stumble over the roots of these massive trees. She also hadn’t a new change of clothes in several days, coming across no villages or so much as a secluded hut, forced to either attempt to wash herself in whatever body of water large enough she could find, or go bare. With the countless swarms of insects and irritating, itchy undergrowth her decision on that had been made easily, except she still stripped nude to bathe when she’d chance upon a branching stream or secluded brook or isolated lake, and submerge. Sometimes, when she resurfaced, the water boiled and the life, fishes, turtles, snakes, birds, within, unlucky to escape, all suffocated and died or were cooked alive. In this heat, she could also barely wash herself, just warming her body until the bloodsuckers went away. Rid herself of her own smell except that, too, didn’t last long as her progress was slow and tedious. She’d no clear idea why, until, with the tell-tale sign of spring’s arrival, if they weren’t buzzing about her head they were latching themselves onto her body, she found a leech on her arm that had shriveled and dried, clinging to her skin until its very final moment. It’d drawn her blood. When she touched it the remains crumbled to ash, a wisp of steam exhausting, leading her to the conclusion that her blood was toxic. That it combusted when exposed to air, though she couldn’t feel it herself nor noticed it before then.

    She thought to use this to her advantage, but this phenomenon was simply another curse. It drew more things to her, caught the woods on fire if she bled profusely and wasn’t careful, and there were times when she would have to cover herself in mud to smother it, or dare wait out both the Titans that ambled into her and the wolves and other predators that shortly followed by, yes, climbing to the highest point of the nearest tree or a diving into a thicket of fallen leaves or within the twisted insides of the tree itself by squeezing herself inside until she couldn’t anymore hoping they wouldn’t attempt the same — and that she wouldn’t burn alive herself.

    But, by now, she reckoned she’d become quite adept at it: anticipating danger and who or what it was.

    Most Titans were mindless, short-attentioned things. They lost interest quickly and moved on crashing against the giant trees like drunkards between tables. Some weren't so simple, content to sit and wait for her to come down. Few were actually intelligent. These ones utilized their misshapen bodies in such ways to attempt to reach her, though luckily none had as of yet. In all instances she waited until nightfall to safely come down, and then it was what lurked in the shadows, stalking her, that she’d to contend with.

    There were some nights where she woke up not knowing how she got where she was, guided by her voices. Which also didn’t help.

    Without much sleep she was ever one misplaced foot on the verge of complete collapse at times, where the pain felt as if someone was taking a mallet to her skull, chipping it away piece by piece. Wherever these voices led her often coaxed more of her past to the surface, which only caused the pain to worsen still.

    And it was today she suffered for it again because she must’ve blacked out after one such journey, touching the back of her head, hoping she didn’t crack open her skull from the fall. Running from another pair of wolves had been the last thing she recalled, where she’d managed to drag herself into a place to hide as the sun rose and the Titans frightened them off.

    She ran her fingers through her hair, expecting to find something but there was nothing and she frowned.

    It must’ve mended itself, as if it never happened, again.

    All of her wounds disappeared overtime, regardless of their severity, and she still didn’t know why that was, either. She suspected it a side-effect of her blood, and thought that Marcel might be able to reveal exactly what, somewhere in that rotting head of his, but he was silent and trying to force it out of him — out of her jumbled recollection of his memories that accompanied his screams — was pointless unless she wanted to experience more awful pain. Whatever the reason, it was a gift that came with a cost, and coupled with the already crippling pain induced from her own lost memories, sapped her strength away, leaving her fatigued and unable to do much until it healed leaving her vulnerable and helpless while she recovered as she quickly tried to get a hold of her surroundings until she realized for the very first time she was no longer on the forest floor. Rather, she were inside a cave and lying on a soft bed of leaves.

    There was a light somewhere just outside her field of vision and she turned her head towards it. As she did she spotted something peeking from behind a corner and shook her head back and forth, cradling it in her hands because of a sudden onset of dizziness, but whatever it’d been vanished, darting out of sight.

    Was she just hallucinating again?

    She looked at Marcel, but he only cocked his what was left of his head like a grotesque dog in broken, bloody, and torn human skin.

    “About time you were awake,” a voice said.

    Her eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness within the cave and she twisted back. A woman stood behind her. Around her above and below were these pointed rocks that looked like teeth inside of a Titan’s mouth, closing in. There was a light from somewhere off to the side, illuminating the scene. In its glow, Ymir made out that this woman appeared to be holding something over her shoulder. A stick? No, a spear?

    “Don’t know what you thought you were doing out there, but I can tell what you were doing. And it wasn’t smart, rolling around and yelling like that in the rain. How did you survive out there, being that stupid? Hah?”

    Her features were grim, two massive cuts across her face, hair cut unevenly short, crudely as if by a knife, brandishing old marks, old burns, along her muscular forearms, and though her movements were somewhat delayed as she set the spear down, her eyes were bright and intense, betraying her youthfulness.

    “Ada,” she said, pointing at herself.

    Ymir hesitated. Then, she opened her mouth, struggling to get the words out though she’d spent so much time saying it back to herself alone. “Y.. m… Ym… ir.” So much time.

    Alone. Her and her hallucinations.

    “Well, Ymir, you’re one lucky kid.” Ada crossed her arms, leaning against one of these pointed rocks. “Kelly should be back later, so in the meantime I’m in charge.”

    Ymir blinked at her, confusion finally settling across her face in full. She wanted to ask where she was, what she was doing here, who Ada was, who this Kelly was, anything and everything but her name was all she could manage to say. Her throat was dry, constricted. So alone… her and her hallucinations.

    “Our leader,” Ada answered one of her unasked questions. “Just wait. She’ll be here. Get some rest. Gonna be a long day.”

    Lying back down, Ymir placed her hands over her stomach and gazed up at the ceiling of the cave, unsure what was to come next. But, surprisingly, she didn’t care, and was just relieved that she’d found people again. She wasn’t alone anymore. And the thought of what her life had been up until now, those many years of torment, stuck as one of those monsters, a monster she never wanted to ever be again but knew she must eventually, sooner rather than later, brought tears to her eyes. Before she knew it, she was crying. She didn’t have to live in fear anymore, and, in the moment, the damp, safe silence that followed was the greatest comfort in the entire world and when this Kelly the muscular woman had spoken of returned, her eyes were red and puffy and itched fiercely, having shed every last tear her body could muster.

    Kelly, a small woman with hair so strikingly yellow it were as if her head had been dipped in the morning sun, took an old, weathered flask from her person and told her to sit up and hold still, then poured some on her face, washing off any leftover grime and dirt and wet her eyes, letting her take a long drink of it after and when she was finished asked her where she’d come from.

    Looking at her own reflection in the woman’s thick lenses, Ymir could only shake her head. It hurt to speak.

    “That’s okay,” Kelly reassured her, seeming to realize this. Crouching down, hands clasped over a knee, she smiled. “My name is Kelly. Though something tells me you already know that,” she said, giving a glance in Ada’s direction. “And I hope Ada didn’t scare you. She can be quite imposing until you get to know her.”

    “Hey, don’t be giving the kid the wrong idea.” Ada snorted.

    Ymir looked between them, then found her voice again, through the pain. “Ymir,” she said again, just as a shadow went between Ada’s boots and straight for them.

    She flinched instinctively, falling back and putting the only thing she had for protection, her blanket, up — now a cloak between them — until the shadow leaped onto Kelly’s shoulder and meowed, revealing itself to simply be just a cat, small and grey with sharp, bright green eyes. It took a moment for her to relax again, her heart beating fast, thump thump, thump thump, and Kelly apologized, telling her the cat’s name was Leo. It must’ve been what she’d seen before, peeking behind the corner.

    Stroking the cat on her head, Kelly waited another moment for her sake before asking her second question. “Are you hungry?”

    And, naturally, Ymir nodded yes.

    They ate a small meal of black berries that Kelly said were safe to eat, trying them herself first so Ymir didn’t think she would get sick or poisoned or worse. To Ymir, they tasted sweet, not like the ones she’d been picking all this time which were sour and ripe and gave her a slight discomfort in her stomach though nothing that lasted or proved harmful.

    Again, Kelly must’ve realized this somehow, from the way she eyed the berries. “Surviving out there by yourself, you might have figured out yourself that these and the blue ones, and some of the red ones are edible. Anything else isn’t.”

    “Yeah, just don’t eat the purple ones, kid,” Ada said, next to her. “Found that out the hard way.”

    Kelly frowned. “Yes. Dita’s death was my fault. Which is why we all hunt together, those of us who are able, and why we all eat together. No exceptions. That way nobody is trying things they shouldn’t and don’t go unaccounted for and we can make sure everyone has had something fresh in their stomach before we move on,” she explained, stopping only to finish chewing, before she continued. “It won’t happen again.”

    Ymir didn’t say a word, couldn’t, not yet really, her voice was still coming back, after all, but even if she could she wouldn’t because how would she possibly tell them that she’d eaten not only these purple berries, but yellows, reds, blues, blacks, and any other color berry she’d been able to find, suffering no symptoms except those aches in her stomach, maybe a knot or three in her gut, depending on the cluster she’d eaten, or a bit of nausea and at the worst throwing them up without further suspicion and consequence? Oh, how then she felt for those she’d buried instead, only nodding her understanding as she put another berry in her mouth, and then listened as Kelly now went about introducing her to the rest of she and Ada’s group as they ate.

    “There, sitting with his little girl, is Oskar.”

    Bald, with rough features under a heavy brow and deep set dark blue eyes, a narrow scar traveling down his left cheek and disappearing into a bushy, brown beard, the man named Oskar was smiling. Focused solely on hand-feeding some of the berries to his child, who was snatching them out of his hand so quick they appeared to disappear out of thin air from his calloused palm, when he heard his name he looked up. He nodded kindly. “You’re safe with us, child,” he said. “Dana, say hello.”

    Dana looked unlike her father, but with one big, black-teethed smile from her and it was obvious they were related, and close.

    Beside them, another bearded man with an even bushier beard, bushy eyebrows, long matted hair and a hooked nose, sat with his arms crossed, looking grim and unhappy.

    “John, and here, with the hood over his head? Maxwell,” Kelly said, indicating at the small man with one tuft of auburn hair jutting out from under his hood and the only one with no form of visible facial hair. Both of them acknowledged her with a nod, as well. John said nothing, but Maxwell said hello. “There? That’s Ester and Alan. Behind them are Raban, Carlene, Otto, Jan, and Alric. And little Ilsa, big Ilsa — sisters — Wil, and Ron.” Kelly turned to them. They were all huddled together. Ester had short, dark hair and small, slanted dark eyes, whereas Alan wore what was left of his in a bun, his beard jagged and ending in a point. Raban, Carlene, Otto, Jan, and Alric were the five much older men and women, wrinkled and past their time, but still aware, regarding her warmly, and the four younger children who looked older than Dana, but not Ymir herself, the Ilsas, Wil, and Ron, waved, looked over quietly, or gave hellos and heys of their own. “Last, you already know Ada, is Mia and her dog, Bear.”

    Mia and Bear were to Kelly’s left and Ada’s right, and Ymir had to tilt her head around Ada’s large frame to see them clearly. Mia was scratching the dog behind the ears. Shoulder length dark hair swept to one side, with near almost squashed together eyes, nose, and mouth under a rather large forehead, Mia appeared to be the only other one around her own age. She gave her a greeting, then went back to the dog, an adult, tan and white with pointy ears and long snout and big, for a dog.

    Ymir was wary around dogs. Distant memories, coming to her in brief flashes of blazing fires against the night, of starving, scrawny things that roamed the battlefield, sniffing for anything that still moved, tortured by hunger not indifferent to what she’d felt those first nights, the blood still licking her tongue, and the taste and the feeling and how difficult it was to resist the urge to devour again. A resolve a common dog couldn’t comprehend, she knew that, and he seemed harmless, she knew that, too, but when she looked at this Bear, all she saw were those mangy dogs from so long ago through an orange light shone on the darkness beyond the trenches, revealing these bony beasts with their glinting eyes ripping off the limbs of the dead unrecovered and unburied, tearing into flesh and meat and bone, and disappearing thereafter.

    And when their small meal was done and Kelly was done with the last of her questions and left with those she’d introduced to discuss things, Ymir watched and waited until Mia and Bear were gone from sight, before moving herself only to fall into the clutches of Ada who wrapped a massive arm around her, like a mother protecting her child.

    For her size, and clumsiness, what the big woman lacked in speed she made up for in raw strength. Leaning just so that her weight kept her from breaking free, pressing gently but firm, Ada lifted her around the waist and carried her back to her bed of soft leaves. Looming tall as a Titan above her, she gave one stern look which read “don’t move” then limped to the place she’d stood guard before. She grabbed her spear.

    “Oskar had it right. Ain’t nobody going to hurt you here. You’re safe with us, as long as you do your part,” she said, presenting it to her as she came back. “Now that you’ve seen the others, it’ll be a short time before we get to work. So rest up.”

    Rest up? Work? What did she…? Doing what, exactly? Ymir might’ve asked, as her eyes went from the spear to Ada’s gruesomely scarred face. But, she knew she was about to find out one way or another and lied back down. Only this time, with a smile on her face because, yes, she’d finally found a place she might call home.

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