At that moment, Bertholdt could not direct his mind except the “no”, what he should not have thought, what he should not have said, and what he should not have done. Recreating possible alternatives where he could have avoided all this, but now it was too late. In addition to failing to save Armor, he would now be considered the enemy of humanity and condemned, taking with him the only person on this planet who understood him.
He was so lost in thought that he didn't notice he was about to collide with a tree until Annie warned him. At the last second he screamed in fright and managed to change the trajectory of the hook by a close call. He raised both legs in front of his body to soften the impact, but when his newly healed leg from a fracture came into contact with the wood, it did not react well. He held back a groan of pain and jumped. In addition to continuing the trajectory with one hurting leg he had to hear Annie's sermon, something about not getting emotional and paying attention to his front.
He didn't know where to go, nor did he risk looking back, just following Annie's lead. He wondered if she also knew where she was going, but his question was answered when she shouted over her shoulder.
“Thirty meters to your right is an abandoned barn, let's hide in there”
Bertholdt looked around but saw nothing compared to a human construction. In the area they were flying over there were only tall bushes and a few low trees. He fired the hook into the trunk of a taller tree to get a better view of the ground, and there it was.
An old wooden building, broken here and here, ivy climbed the planks like a cancer gave it a sinister appearance. It was amazing how time makes things seem unrecognizable.
Annie fired the hook into the roof and dived toward a hole in the roof, large enough for a smaller human to pass. Bertholdt followed her example, brushing the edges because of his larger size.
They both landed inside the barn with no problem, and immediately the smell of mold and animal feces irritated their nostrils. Bertholdt looked around, not surprisingly, just what was expected of an abandoned barn. Old wooden walls with several holes through which light came in, dusty surfaces and home to cobwebs, and several materials and equipment dropped around.
His attention was focused on the outside sounds. Bertholdt was standing looking at where he had just entered. He listened for any sounds of hooks, flaring gas and even footsteps, but he heard nothing but rustling leaves. Weird.
At first he was confused, a whirlwind of questions passed in his mind.
Aren't we being followed? Have we lost them? Are they after us?
As a precaution Bertholdt was about to pick up his blade, but a clearing beside him caught his eye. Annie stared at him, her expression indicating only tranquility and confidence, the complete opposite of the situation.
“They can't follow us”
"What do you mean?" Bertholdt asked, confused by what she meant by that.
Bertholdt watched closely as she moved her hand in her pocket and pulled out a screwdriver. At first Bert did not understand the real meaning of this object, but then noticed that the tip of the screwdriver was wrinkled and scratched, it was certainly used for another purpose rather than tightening or loosening a screw.
“I punctured each one's 3DMG gas tanks,” Annie explained, a mischievous smile forming on her face, like a child pleased by its diabolical work.
“Oh..” That was all Bertholdt could say.
With the three-dimensional maneuvering equipment out of service, the soldiers could not go after them. And going to the stables and fixing the riding equipment would take a long time. It was a clever strategy, he had to agree, but a doubt arose in his mind.
"Wait .. when did you do that?"
“Earlier before meeting you. I was assigned to organize the 3DMG and gas tanks at the temporary camp. And .. when I saw you there .. ” She didn't seem to know which words to pursue, after all she was never a person to say long sentences.
“In the battle of the titan” Bertholdt finished for her and earned a death glare from which he swallowed hard.
"I had a feeling what you were going to try to do, so I drilled the tanks" She explained.
Bertholdt took a while to process everything and then sat in a cleaner corner of the barn, Annie copied his example and sat next to him. She noticed Bertholdt's fast change of mood.
"Do you think Armor did it?"
Annie didn't answer, in fact until she didn't know if Armor could break free of the restrictions or not. But that other titan, the five-meter freak, proved that her jaws powerful enough to cut steel wire. Since half the camp was now behind them, the smaller titan had enough distraction to continue cutting the cables. The freedom of the armored titan depended on that titan's competence.
"I think we should think of ourselves now." Annie changed the subject.
"I'll say this was all my idea, convince them that you have nothing to do with it" Bertholdt replied, looking down.
Annie was surprised by Bertholdt's sudden response, she didn't expect this heroic act from him. Somehow this situation has matured him, but she doesn't think this is the time for him to demonstrate it.
“No. We're a team! ”Annie exclaimed, using a tone of voice that made it clear that she didn't accept the disagreement, but Bertholdt ignored.
“You don't have to be condemned either. Please Annie, I don't want to drag you into my mess. I'll never forgive myself if something happens to you!” Bertholdt practically begged, looking at her now.
“We have already discussed this, I am with you because I. I chose!” Annie emphasized the last two words pointing to herself.
"Look, not everything is lost, we can convince them that Armor is not a threat." It was really strange for Annie to say the name of this titan, but she hoped it meant something to Bertholdt. “If you don't remember there is another intelligent titan behind these walls called Rogue”
Bertholdt wanted to argue with her, to say that Rogue saved the lives of many humans and that is why he is accepted, unlike Armor that despite not killing a human life he allowed several titans to enter.
He was about to scream back, his mouth even moved a few times, but those blue eyes, full of determination, made him give up. He hated that power she had over him, and at the same time was attracted to it. Why are feelings bipolar?
Bertholdt sighed and looked down, lost.
"Don't think this is the end, not everything is lost yet" Annie comforted him.
A long awkward silence fell over them until Bertholdt was the first to break it.
"How did you know about this place?" Bertholdt asked, wanting to change the subject and also a little curious.
“Loners find the most extravagant places”
At the edges of the makeshift camp, a group of Military Police Brigade members roamed the perimeter with a few dogs, trying to find any sign of the direction the traitors fled, but so far they have been unsuccessful in their search.
The dogs walked to a place that seemed interesting and sniffed a trail for a random path, giving the soldiers hope, but unfortunately the dogs stopped and looked for another spot to sniff.
Brigade members sighed. They had no rags smelling of traitors, and some other scouts swore they had seen the pair flee using the 3DMG, so it would be impossible to use the dogs since they didn't flee on the ground, but since Survey Corps members found that the 3DMGs stored in one of the huts were sabotaged, they had no choice but to use the dogs.
"Come on boy, tell me you found something" Said a middle-aged man stroking the dog's head.
The sniffer dog wagged its tail with the attention, and then proceeded with what it was trained to do. He paced back and forth, trying to find a suspicious smell, until suddenly he stopped and sniffed a spot intently. There was nothing interesting there, just damp earth and dry leaves, but for a dog, smells are their world. Then the dog barked loudly, drawing the attention of the surrounding soldiers. They gathered around the dog hopefully.
The sniffer dog began to follow an invisible trail, a group forming behind him, very curious where the dog was leading them. Then the dog stopped and pointed with his muzzle at a thicket. The dog’s hair ruffled and the tail wagged slightly to the sides, a sign of aggression common in dogsA low growl turned to loud barks as the dog lunged into the thicket and chased a squirrel.
"Seriously, Cujo!" The man exclaimed irritably, along with the disapproval of the soldiers around him.
"Tell me you found something." It was Levi's voice, approaching the group.
Brigade members shuddered and turned to meet one of humanity's most important figures, accompanied by other members of the Survey Corps.
At that moment Cujo and the squirrel ran between them.
Squad captain's expression was indecipherable. Disapproval, disgust or just wondering? It was impossible to know what was going through his head, and that was really intimidating.
He tilted his head toward the tall trees, where some men claim they saw the pair flee.
The middle-aged man took courage, but was cut off by Levi's question.
“Did anyone at least recognize the duo's identity?”
The middle-aged man sighed with relief in his mind, at least he wasn't angry.
“hm.. yes, yes. My men said they recognized a fair-skinned, blond-haired girl named Annie Leonard, a respected member of the Military Police, or at least she was .. she will now be investigated on suspicion of the death of Hanji's two guinea pig titans, sabotage and treason. And the other.. hm.. well” Levi gave him a look with a clear message, do not hide anything from me “It's Bertholdt”
No description needed, everyone knew who Bertholdt was. Now he was the most famous figure in all the territory hidden behind these huge walls.
For the first time the old man swore to see an expression cross the squad captain's expressionless face, even if at least it was a matter of seconds. That expression was surprising, not because one of the fugitives was a member of the Military, there is indeed reason to be suspicious of Annie, she had no friends, and avoided crowded places, a lone wolf. But Bertholdt, the gentle giant, at least as his fellow servants described him. How could he have done something like that and why?
A discussion began between the soldiers.
“Wait… that Bertholdt? No, that can't be!”
“Who are you talking about? The one from the newspapers?”
“Bertholdt? That lad the newspapers are saying was the only one who returned from the expedition?”
"Yes! This guy, but .. God! This does not make any sense!"
“This can't be him! As far as I know Bertholdt couldn't hurt a fly bug!”
"I knew that! He's a traitor, there's no other way he could have survived on the other side of the walls for so long.”
“Another way? What do you mean?! Titans are as dumb as drunk whores! It's not like they made an association!”
"Shut up! What do we know about titans anyway? He is a fucking traitor!”
Suddenly everyone was silenced by a hoarse voice.
"Enough!" Exclaimed Commander Erwin loudly, approaching the group on a white horse.
No one dared even move. All eyes followed the commander's approach. The white horse trotted until stop a few feet from the soldier's huddle, and next to Levi.
"It's not in our place to judge Annie or Bertholdt without hearing them yet for the reason for their actions" Said Commander Erwin, uttering each word in a tone that left no doubt that he would not accept them speaking back, and facing each face of each. to make sure they heard it clearly.
The soldier who had made the last comment gritted his teeth slightly, he didn't agree and wanted to protest. Command Erwin stared at him, defying him. But the man broke eye contact and looked down, like a good commanding dog he had to listen and accept what was said.
Erwin pondered for a while, as though choosing which words to pursue “These past few weeks nothing has been normal. This is terrifying even for me, I confess”
Levi stared at him, he didn't think it was a good strategy for a leader to show fear, but years following his leadership Levi learned that Erwin always knew what he was doing.
"But I know that if we surrender to the despair and insanity that this primitive feeling provides, we will go nowhere but to drown." The commander stared at them as he said, this time not harshly, but softer.
“I am not saying they are innocent, but I'm not saying they didn't go through a trial either. All I ask of you is not to act on your own judgment, but to act with professionalism and ethics according to the competence of each of you.”
Erwin finished his speech, earning several looks that conveyed different messages. Some acknowledged that he was right, others felt bad or ashamed of the things they commented. Levi gave him a little nod, his way of saying 'Nice speech'
The man who initially showed disapproval seemed to reflect, but still a part of him deeply despised Bertholdt, and nothing that the fugitive could say changed his opinion. What other reason did Bertholdt have for mysteriously appearing intact after a failed expedition and trying to unleash one of humanity's worst nightmares if he wasn't a traitor? He had read the papers and heard everything the superiors had said about the case, which was not much. He was very surprised that no one questioned the only survivor how he managed to stay in a hostile land all this time, only focused Bertholdt on an image of "The Great Survivor". Anyway, he doesn't care anymore, if Erwin wants the court to take care of it, so be his will. There's no other way that Bertholdt and that emo blonde are innocent anyway. There simply is not.
“Take the horses and divide into two groups. The first will enter the forest with the dogs and the second will surround a perimeter around the forest. The pair cannot use 3DMG except for the trees. They are hiding somewhere in the woods.” Erwin ordered, he was about to hit the reins when a soldier speak.
“But Commander, this region is too large to set up a perimeter, and we have very few men to-”
The commander cut him off, preventing the soldier from finishing his sentence.
“Survey members are unable because of the sabotage. They will help you.”
As Commander Erwin said the last word, Jean, Mikasa, Armin, and others emerged from behind, riding their horses. They waved to the commander as soon as they saw him.
“Find them, Levi and I will see how extensive the damage to armored titan restrictions was.” Erwin ordered before hit the rein and proceeding in the direction where the captive titan was with Levi by his side, where at some point he rode a black horse like coal.
Jean looked around, trying to find something, then focused on Mikasa
"Where is Connie and Sasha?"
Far away from this confusion, the armored titan and jaw titan were hidden behind some human constructions about big enough to keep them out of human sight. Right beside them was the wall that separated the human territory and the titans. It was a temptation to get out of this place, but Armor was worried about too many things to even think about, and one of them was to regain his honor at his alpha.
The armored titan grunted in pain as he pulled the pieces of metal off his plate and flesh, he thinks he heard humans call it harpoons. The smaller titan next to him wasn't having a good time either, she grunted and complained as she pulled the steel cords that got stuck in her teeth, and reminded Armor that he owed her a lot.
Jaw titan pulled the last piece of wire rope from her sharp teeth, but this action carried a piece of tooth along. She held back a grunt of pain as a thin layer of blood ran down her jaw.
<You will pay for it, asshole! > The smaller titan complained.
The blood evaporated leaving no red stain behind, and the new piece of teeth was almost replacing its ancestor.
The larger titan ignored and sniffed the air for that earlier smell, but unfortunately the winds changed and he couldn't locate the black female titan. He is not sure what he will do when he finds her, but if she is here, it was because alpha assigned her to be here. When he finds her he can ask the location of the alpha and thus apologize for having failed in order to redeem himself and regain the confidence of his alpha.
But when he thought about it, he wondered why alpha sent her. Was the black female titan here to rescue him or to finish what he had not done? With that last thought, he immediately remembered Bertholdt. A panic ran down his spine, the female titan's older sister was manic, thirsty to kill any intelligent life. If the alpha has sent her to kill the traitor titan and allow her brothers to enter, she will make a point of committing genocide, and he is not sure if Bertholdt will escape her insanity.
The armored titan shook his head. The alpha was right, the human made him weak, he should drop the name "Armor" and cut any ties he created with this inferior species. Because that was what he was, a titan, the superior, stronger, tougher species, worthy of occupying the top of the food chain .. but at the same time it sounded like it wasn't the right thing to do?
< Hey! How's the weather over there? > It was the jaw titan, mocking him.
He looked down, only to find the smaller titan staring at him. She realized that he didn't look well, too focused on his own thoughts.
< Find her >
The armored grunted in response, short and devoid of emotion. The jaw titan noticed the change and tilted her head to the side.
< For what? >
Now it was the turn of the larger titan to tilted his head.
< What do you mean? We need to find her to find our alpha! >
The armored titan grunted loudly, trying to get her to remember what was important at the moment.
< Ours? Did you forget that I am now a traitor? >
< More reason to redeem yourself with your alpha! >
The jaw titan had an enormous desire to do what he once saw a human do, put her palm on the face and shake the head.
It was unbelievable how her fifty meters friend had such a backward mind. The alpha doesn't care about him or anyone else, this whole idea that a pack has the back of each other, and that the strongest protect the weak, was a lie. The alpha who armored is so idolized is a manipulator and only thinks of itself, and is only using them for his own benefit.
Seriously, why is it necessary to conquer the territory of humans when there is a whole world out there? Some alphas titans respect and stay away from human territory, they know that these tiny creatures pose no danger, and although they are a source of energy, titans do not necessarily need them, the sun is already a sufficient food source.
But this monkey-looking titan has a weird fetish, it's like he's happy to watch. The jaw titan sometimes wonders if this is a way he has found to show that he is stronger than his brother, the titan who owns the coordinate.
< Do you want to know something? I don't have to prove anything to anyone, ever! >
The jaw titan grunted fiercely. The larger titan gave her that confused look but said nothing, waiting for her to explain.
< I've already made my choice, I'm leaving. Now I decide what to do with my life instead of someone predetermining what I have or not to do >
< What? Are you listening to what you are saying? You are condemning yourself to be a traitor forever! >
The armored titan protested, the destination she was choosing was her own grave. A traitor only leaves the pack when it is dead. Right now it was his duty to kill her. The jaw titan was a traitor now, no longer a war comrade, but why he simply couldn't do it.
The armored titan cursed himself mentally. He didn't have the courage to move a muscle and end the life of this mass of flesh and nerves as she climbed the wall using her claws.
< I'm not condemning. I'm free, and I wish you were too >
The jaw titan growled low over her shoulder.
He watched her climb the wall to the top. The jaw titan didn't look back, for some reason he wished she had.
The fifty meters titan growled in anger and slammed a fist into the wall, leaving a crater there. He did not understand, he was playing to regain the confidence of his alpha, shows that he was not weak, but why he just felt that he was missing something.
Jaw Titan's voice echoed in her thoughts, "I'm free, and I wish you were, too." So maybe being free meant more than just not being immobilized by cables and sharp metals? Although he had heard that word before, he never understood the real meaning of it.
It seemed that now he understood now. All these feelings of frustration building inside him was a symptom that he was holding himself in order to satisfy someone's expectations, in this case his alpha, or should he call someone who likes to give orders?
Looking back it seemed that everything was clearer now, he didn't remember when or why he considered his alpha the most important figure of his life, and also didn't remember whether or not he liked the things he did. He had never questioned his orders in the first place, because a true warrior does not question the orders he just does, but who decided to define what a warrior is?
He wanted to thank jaw titan and apologize, but it was too late. At least now he knows what to do when he finds black bitch titan.
The commander and captain of the Surveys Corps hurried side by side, dodging huts and some crates and other materials along the way. Due to the rush and pressure from the superiors to speed up the camp, everything was disorganized.
"Where exactly are we going?" Levi asked as he guided his horse into the most open areas possible.
"I have something to give you" The commander replied
"Today is my birthday?"
"Is that you trying to be funny?"
None of them were laughing.
Then there was a shout to their right. The commander pulled the reins, causing his horse to stop trotting, and then went down to meet a sweating and panting Hannes.
"You know ... it's very unfair for me to have to accompany you.. on foot while you are… riding a horse!” Hannes complained, pausing to breathe properly, though he didn't sound like he was really angry.
“My sincere apologies” Said Commander Erwin, with Levi by his side now.
Levi rolled his eyes, he doesn't think this really was sincere. And then noticed that Hannes was carrying something in his hands and asked "What's this?"
At first it looked like a 3DMG, could be seen belts, tanks, and metal equipment, however, these is very different from what he was used to.
“That's what I wanted to show you, Levi. With the 3DMG sabotaged the team can't do much, but I remembered there was one save in a nearby warehouse, so I sent Hannes to get it” The commander explained.
Levi took the equipment from Hannes's hands and examined it. It was dusty, dirty and scratched. He would not have believed that this was maneuvering equipment if Erwin had not said it was.
Definitely, he will have to take his clothes to the laundry after that.
Erwin noticed Levi's confused expression and decided to add, “This is an old model, and as you can see it's not in good condition, so I need the best soldier to use it.”
Levi still looked doubtful whether he should wear the 3DMG or not. He took one of the belts and tested its strength with his fingers. A few pieces of leather came down. This older version of 3DMG is really not fit for use. If one of these belts comes off when he is in mid-air, the results will be terrible.
“Hey.. where is the armored titan?” Hannes asked, looking around.
The makeshift camp aims to encircle the perimeter of the titan, but there was no titan here.
"It was supposed to be here" Erwin replied.
"Wait .. what do you mean .. oh"
Then Hannes observed that in this exact spot where they were now there was a large open space. A huge expanse of grass and weeds are crushed, as if something heavy were upon them, that something must have been about fifty meters. And he can also observe several steel cables and harpoon remnants scattered around, and he was impressed how he didn't notice it before.
"He ran away" Hannes concluded.
The blonde took the canteen from his pocket and drank the amber contents, pleased when he felt the burning down his throat. He always told himself it was his medicine for when he felt nervous, alcohol helped him think better, although some women say the opposite.
"Wait, you mean you knew this motherfucker got away and you sent your mens after two teenagers, and now you want to send the squad captain after him with that ... piece of shit!" Hannes freaked out, for sure the alcohol didn't help him think better, but noticeable the situation around him.
“In fact .. just now I found out that armored titan has escaped. Levi try to find him but don't try to fight, Hannes and I will warn the others. ”Erwin ordered.
This whole situation was like a spiral that only got worse and worse. The commander was not liking how things were going.
The armored titan has escaped and God only knows what he plans to do, two fugitives teenagers, possibly traitors were out there, and to make matters worse the only three-dimensional maneuvering equipment available is quite old and in poor condition to use.
Erwin repeated to himself, he needed to keep a cool head, and think of some strategy for turning the table.
"Hey .. what's that?" Hannes asked, pointing to a dark figure above the wall.
It was impossible to see with the naked eye, but it was definitely a titan. Erwin took the binoculars; one of Hanji's newest creation, and focused on the crouching creature on top of the wall.
The first thing Erwin could notice was that it wasn't armored titan. This new titan had a small body and had feminine characteristics, the image of the female titan was the first thought that crossed his mind, but neither was she. This new titan had black skin and shoulder-length white hair, with the ends stained of red. Erwin cannot distinguish whether this titan had exposed skin equal to the first female titan, but he can see that it has white bone-shaped plaques all over the body, together these plaques resembled a skeleton.
Suddenly the black female titan stood up, and Erwin and the other two gasped in surprise, no need for binoculars to see that the titan's legs and feet were different. This titan was not plantigrad like humans, that mean, feet resting on the palms. This titan was digitigrade, it meant that its feet are resting on the tiptoes.
None of them have ever seen a titan like this, Hanji would go crazy when learns about the peculiarities of this new species, but this is no time for admiration.
Erwin focused his binoculars on the face of this new titan. White and red hair obstruct most of the face, leaving only the lower half of the face in sight. As if she knew she was being watched, she moved her lips, showing a row of perfectly white and sharp teeth.
A smile that conveyed only one word