Chapter 1: Act One: Gelegenheit (Opportunity) - Reboot
9/19/15 A/N: Welcome back! To newcomers and old, this is a hardcore revision of the first three chapters, as well as an introduction of some new material that's been in the works ever since the beginning! You've all been very patient, and I figure I should get this show on the road.
Just for kicks, I've added a rating, character, and pairing (this is optional) list at the top of each chapter in an attempt to embracing the drabble format. With that said, let's get on to the story!
[Originally posted: 4/5/2014]
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Act One: Gelegenheit (Opportunity)
Characters: Eren, Annie, Reiner
Eren Jaeger found himself skidding to a halt upon the earth. He wanted to defend himself, to protest, but the breath was knocked from his lungs. Instead he raised a hand, and his opponent lowered the wooden oar she'd used to send him sprawling. He sat up slowly, wincing.
Training with someone the likes of Annie Leonhardt was often painful in the best of conditions. Today was no exception. He was fortunate she'd bothered to let up at all, really; in any other situation there would be no mercy to be found, nothing but him and his wits as far as he was concerned, and she understood this perfectly. Though as much as he appreciated that shared sentiment, it still hurt. A lot. He could already feel the muted ache blooming along his back, a prelude to bruising. A good thing, then, he supposed dryly, that he was such a quick healer.
"Can't…can't you show some restraint?" he managed. Annie merely swapped the oar to her other hand before replying:
"Same to you."
Eren stared at her. Haloed by the sun, she struck an imposing figure. "What?" he asked.
"You come charging in with all your strength. I only meet you accordingly. And besides, you're a man, aren't you? Shouldn't you be more careful with this delicate body of mine?"
Eren gave a snort of disbelief. She had to be joking. "Right. So how come I always end up flat on my back while you're still standing?" Annie paused, as if considering the right way to answer this. Then she sighed.
"Well, the techniques I'm using are a bit different from what they teach us here. I'm not using my strength to throw you. These techniques are meant for when you're facing an opponent who's stronger than you." The oar fell to the grass with a muffled thump, and she resumed her traditional stance. "I don't suppose it'll hurt to teach you."
Clearly, he wasn't going anywhere, anytime soon. Eren decided to make the most of it. "All right," he said, "let's take a few." Annie smirked at him, and he faltered.
All it took was that moment of indecision. One second she was advancing, the next, she'd landed a blow to his stomach, then his knee. His legs flew out from underneath him as she flipped him over her, and his surroundings became a blur of indistinguishable color and sound and then—!
Impact with the hard-packed ground brought up a cloud of dust and a fresh wave of pain along his body. More bruising. Lucky for him she knew what she was doing or else he'd probably have broken something…though she could do much worse if she really wanted, and given this, Eren was also a touch suspicious.
"Annie—" he hissed, it was difficult to breathe with her arm locked tightly around his neck. "I—you've made your point!"
"Not yet." Her stranglehold abated just enough for him to cough, suck in much needed air. Goddammit, she was just messing with him now. "Not until you learn how to use your strength." There was a small pause, then, almost causally, she added, "And how to talk to girls."
Well. That was a new one. Eren struggled uncomfortably against her grip to no avail, flushed. "All right, I get it!" he burst out desperately, "just—just let me go!"
There was a pause.
"…Oh," said Annie quietly, and the genuine surprise in her voice made him wonder what the hell he'd gotten himself into this time. "So you want to learn more?" The pressure on his chest abated, and he coughed as she sat up beside him, watched her with a rising sense of trepidation in his stomach.
"I don't…um." He trailed off when she leant back over him; he couldn't recall her ever permitting herself to remain this close for so long. His gaze flitted back uncertainly in the direction of the other recruits, then back to her face. A faint smile graced her mouth.
"Fine," she muttered. "I'll demonstrate."
And before he could inquire as to what she meant, Annie grabbed his jaw, the back of his head, intent as she would be when correcting his form, and carefully closed the space between them.
Whatever Eren had been predicting, it certainly wasn't this. Her mouth was a little chapped, warm. The kiss itself was gradual enough for to him wonder if she'd ever done this before, a little rougher when she pressed him down, hands shifting to his wrists. He grunted a little, felt her smirk, tasting teeth and—
It was over as quickly as it had happened. She pulled away and he found himself struck by a spell of dizziness that had nothing to do with the blood rushing to his head. But she was still there, still pinning him down, and there was something strange in her eyes he couldn't quite name. And he could hear the other recruits yelling excitedly but couldn't discern their words and somebody—Connie?—cried: "Shit, she just threw Reiner!"
A shadow cast over the earth and Annie froze. The last thing Eren remembered clearly was the subtle flush about her face as she looked up, jumped back, left him confused. Then the shadow crashed into him with the full force of a charging horse and he was stunned, nearly unconscious. Black spots popping before his eyes, Eren shoved the object off him—heavier than he was expecting—came back to earth seconds later and there was Reiner beside him, unscathed, still roaring with laughter.
"Figured she'd take that well!" he exclaimed merrily, clapping Eren on the shoulder, who was still a little dazed, so Reiner added: "See for yourself." And Eren looked up to where Annie was now holding conversation with Mikasa, but by now they'd attracted a small crowd of onlookers and there was the makings of a skirmish in the air. "So what do you think, Eren?" Reiner asked him suddenly. "Think Annie can hold her own against your sister?"
And of course Eren understood. He was just too punch-drunk to care, and Reiner's question didn't matter anyway. He ducked, grinning privately to himself, insinuations be damned.
If Mikasa had only taken several more seconds to notice the terrible danger presented to her brother; that danger being Annie going in for the smooch. Yes, I'm very mature. Based off of Chapter 44: Strike, Throw Submit. Or Punch, Lock Throw if you're reading the raw manga. Thanks for reading, and if you'd be kind, leave a review! I dig constructive criticism.
Chapter 2: Act Two: Speicher (Memory)
A/N: The idea for this particular chapter was inspired by the work of a fanfiction writer by the name of Euregatto, and her story, My Past is a Graveyard and My Mind the Tomb. It's pretty awesome!
You can check it out here (delete the spaces!): w w w . fan fiction . n e t (/) s/10085274/1/My-Past-is-a-Graveyard-and-My-Mind-the-Tomb
Mina Carolina lived in a Hell of her mind's invention. Hell's name was Trost.
Trost surrounded her in the blood soaked streets of her dreams, and these streets were packed wall to wall with bloated corpses decaying in the sun. Military, Garrison, ordinary civilians, it didn't matter. Their features were all the same, all made grotesquely clear in the brilliant light of day. Some of them rotted faster than others, revealing putrid muscle and hollow, yellowed eyes, twisted grimaces etched upon their sunken faces.
One corpse caught her eye, terribly familiar. When she gasped in horrified recognition, her lungs burned with the overwhelming stench of death.
Milius Zeramuski's decomposing face leered up at her. They regarded one another in silence.
When she couldn't bear to look at him any longer she glanced down at her hands, only to realize they were covered in blood. She tried to cry out but her throat was dry, and all she managed was a raspy whimper. The blood pooling at her feet coagulated. It slowly rose to her ankles, then her knees, soaking through her boots. It was hot. Hot and wet and burning – and it came to her that it was not the sun that brought such unbearable heat.
A low pulse echoed off the walls, reverberating in the silence of the lifeless street. She couldn't move. The blood continued to rise as the streets turned dark, damp. The sunlight was fading into a dull, rusty orange.
And she realized that it was not blood that she found herself submerged in (up to the waist now), but acid. The sun was as red as the melting flesh of the corpses around her. Presently, her skin began to melt as well.
But Mina never screamed; there was no point in screaming. Where there should have been unendurable agony, there was only emptiness.
She woke with a strangled cry of two different names, neither of which formed properly on her tongue.
Nac. Thomas. Milius.
They were dying over and over again and she could never save them.
The delusions happened everywhere. She would turn a corner in the hall – Hell was unrelenting – and see one of them (Thomas?) leaning up against the wall at an unnatural angle, half of their face torn clean off, a death grin frozen upon their petrified features, and all she could do was stand there.
It went on like this for weeks; Mina eventually made it a point to avoid the others members of the Training Corps, because she couldn't bear the half-hearted pity on their faces when she passed them in the hallways. But she could never blame them; after all, they weren't the ones cowering before an empty wall, apologizing brokenly to someone who wasn't there.
One day the visions peaked.
It was the start of lunch. The day was uncomfortably warm; the sun shone white through the windows and the crack in the door. She had just sat down next to Annie at their usual table, but Mina couldn't muster the will to eat. A heavy silence hung in the air between them for ten, agonizing minutes before her friend broke the silence; she always seemed to break it first these days.
"You have to." Annie said firmly, and it was so strange hearing those words from Annie of all people that Mina didn't reply. Instead, she looked down at her hands so she could pretend to ignore the unsettling expression on her friend's face.
Her breath stuck in her throat, because her hands-
Her hands were warm, slick with blood, gore caked thick beneath her fingernails. The acrid odor of rot came back to her.
She blinked, and Nac's dismembered torso was splayed across the table, clothes singed with acid, eyes wide. His skin was ghastly white, and the blood soaked flesh of his wrists served a gruesome contrast to the ashen, marred flesh, gouged right down to the bone-
Mina gagged, choked, fighting the overwhelming urge to vomit right then and there because she was supposed to have put this all behind her, but how could she put something like this behind her-
"Mina." Annie said quietly, and she jolted, spun wildly from the scene before her the to the girl beside her. Her friend was regarding her as she'd never regarded her before; for the first time since Mina had known her there was an hint of something resembling remorse in her pale eyes. "It's over." Of course, Mina didn't understand what that meant, because Nac was dead, lying right there on the table. She looked back at her hands, still warm and wet and-
Mina didn't speak. She couldn't. She could only stare fixedly at her perfectly normal hands. Her face was still white, her breath eluded her.
"Oh, God." She mumbled. Annie's own hand curled slightly on the table, a few inches from her own.
"Again?" She asked, and Mina nodded shakily.
"I'm...f-fine." She muttered. Annie glanced at her, calculating.
"All right." Her hand unclenched, but she left it there.
They didn't talk again for the rest of the hour.
If Mina had survived the battle for Trost, but only just.
This was totally experimental. Let me know what you thought! :D
Chapter 3: Act Three: Ausfall (Failure)
The cannons had already reloaded. It was now or never. Armin stood up.
"I'll convince the Garrison." He said fiercely. "Don't try anything that'll provoke them." He fumbled with the maneuvering gear at his waist, and it fell to the ground with a muffled clink of metal and leather. His sword followed as he ran to meet the group of waiting soldiers.
We don't have time to figure this out. I'll have to think while I speak!
Armin halted and looked up at the man before him; Kitz Weilman, one of the commanders of the Garrison. Hoping against hope that this man was not as unreasonable as he appeared, he began:
"We wish to disclose our information, sir!" Kitz gave a shriek of nervous laughter.
"There's nothing left to discuss! We all saw what he's capable of!" The man motioned to the circle of armed soldiers surrounding them. "If you can prove his innocence, then show us now!"
"We don't need to show you anything!" Armin snapped. "You all saw him!" He turned to the Garrison members nearest him for support. "You saw how the other Titans tried to kill him, and how he fought them! They view him as prey!" A string of murmurs followed this proclamation, and for a moment Armin wondered, disbelievingly, if it really was going to be this easy to convince them.
And then Kitz burst out:
"Enough! The Titans have always acted beyond our understanding! We cannot allow this to interfere with our duty to these civilians!" He raised his arm, and the figures atop the wall returned the motion.
Armin whirled back to look at his companions, panic thundering in his chest. For a moment their eyes met his.
And wWithin that instant of mutual understanding, they heard Kitz scream the order: "Fire!" Armin could only watch as Eren raised a shaking hand to his mouth. Once more, the explosion of orange light flooded the courtyard, obscuring the situation from the trainees watching upon the rooftops.
Then the cannons went off.
A volley of shells rained down upon the target. A few of them sank into the ground upon impact, narrowly missing he and Mikasa in the process, but the others hit their mark with a succession of deafening CRACKS as they tore through flesh and bone. All that could be heard was the raspy snarl of the injured Titan and the panicked cries of the Garrison below as the dust swirled around them. Armin lowered his arms from his face and squinted. He could just distinguish Mikasa and the massive shape of what he assumed was Eren's Titan. He began to make his way towards them, coughing.
"Mikasa!" He called. There was no response. Fear gripped at him. Was she alright? Was Eren? Precious seconds had passed, and the Garrison hadn't made any visible attempt to capture them. Now the dust was settling and he could see her, standing quite still. "What's-"
But the words died in his throat as he saw the look of horror upon her face, and he followed her gaze, comprehension dawning upon him.
Titans did not fare well under direct fire, and now they could see the extent of the damage the cannons had dealt.
Large chunks of flesh had been blown away, exposing withered muscle and charred bone. The creature's eyes were green but clouded, and a trickle of dark blood oozed from the corner of its jaw, steaming as it made contact with the blistered skin.
As they watched, the Titan swayed drunkenly for a few seconds, and then a low, agonized groan issued from its throat as it crashed to the ground.
It was disintegrating quickly. Armin rushed forward, but Mikasa got there first.
One meter lengthwise, ten centimeters across-
She stabbed her blade into the Titan's neck and wrenched it down; the skin, already weakened by the failed transformation, now parted easily. Without hesitation she plunged her arms up to the shoulder within the white - hot flesh with a shriek of pain, but still she pushed deeper, searching desperately for any sign of her brother even as her body continued to scream in protest.
Her fingers brushed something other than bloody muscle.
"Armin!" She shouted. "Help me!" He took a fistful of the creature's hair and used it to pull himself up, clambering over to her through the steam. In all the years he'd known her, Mikasa had never appeared as inconsolable as she did now. "He's still in there!" She gasped, pale with exertion and indescribable agony. "Help me!"
Kitz was yelling orders that he could not hear. He watched Mikasa struggle to free her bloodied arms from the creature's nape and fumble with the sword at her hip. Before he could ask why, he felt hands close around his arms and yank him away from the dissolving shell, only to feel them slacken as a spurt of warmth hit his back, then weight slumped upon him. He yelped in surprise and pushed it off-
The dead man tumbled to the ground. Armin paled. "M-Mikasa?" He stammered, but she was busy dealing with the newest victim. He fell below, and his companion screamed in rage and attacked, only to fall shortly after him.
Distantly, Armin could hear a different voice shouting new, panicked orders, none of which he could make out. He turned to find Mikasa dragging Eren's unconscious body from the nape. "Eren!" He cried, and the appearance of his friend was enough to push the thought of additional Garrison coming to detain them from his mind.
She pulled her brother close to her, but he did not stir. This did not seem to faze her in the slightest as she slung him upon her shoulder.
"What are you-"
"Escaping," She said curtly. Armin gaped at her.
"Mikasa." He said weakly. "You can't fight them all off."
She cocked the gas gun at her waist and took aim. "I have to."
But Armin glanced nervously at the unconscious boy in her arms. "They'll kill you."
"So be it."
"No." He took her wrist. "We stay together." She affixed him with a particularly venemous glare.
"Eren saved us."
"And I swear we'll do the same." said Armin fiercely. She held his gaze for a long moment, unflinching. And then she said:
"Then I'll believe you."
If Armin had failed to convince the Garrison, and Eren had been forced to go with his original plan. Based upon Chapter 10: Where's the Left Arm?
A/N: Hurrah, over three hundred views!
What happens next, I leave entirely up to you, dear readers.
Chapter 4: Act Four
So what if it was Annie instead of Reiner that Eren ran into during chapters 98 through 100? (The original idea of Annie over Reiner was brought to my attention by the awesome lunarcrystals; go shower her in praise and such.) I'll revise the format for earlier chapters soon, but I wanted to get this out first.
As where I come into this, I've been itching to write this older, heavy-weight drinker, Colonel Kurtz-like Eren Krueger we've seen in the latest chapters. I'm actually trying to avoid the shippy feels and take a more generalized approach this time. And I would love to explore something of this nature involving Annie off Paradis in greater depth, but for now, we have the raw concept.
This is also my first attempt at tackling Falco's perspective; get ready for the feels train to leave the station.
iv: the man who sold the world, part 1
Falco weaved a path in-and-out of the streets, past the Liberio residents and cameramen, past the foreign officials, until at last to the group of Warriors; even at a distance, Zeke's taller form was unmistakable.
Falco made a beeline towards them. "Wait!" he called, fairly winded. Gabi, Pieck, Porco and Vice Commander Leonhardt all looked at him.
"Where have you been?" Gabi asked curiously.
"About time you showed up," Porco said. "You're nearly late."
Pieck seemed intrigued. "Hullo, Falco. What's the hurry?"
Falco brushed them aside. "Sorry, I can't talk—er, Vice Commander Leonhardt, d'you have a minute?"
Commander Leonhardt said nothing, turning to Zeke perhaps in hopes of getting backup, but he reassured them both with a glance at his wristwatch: "It's all right, we're still getting settled in. You should have some time."
Commander Leonhardt turned to Falco and said, very curtly: "Lead the way, Grice."
Even as they walked, Falco was astonished his plan was working out this smoothly, especially with the likes of Vice Commander Leonhardt. But he wasn't about to let this get in the way of the surprise.
On the streets again, he wound his way through the thickening crowd of civilians and other socialites 'til he was at the back of the tenement building. The area here was less populated, and Falco walked swiftly over to one particular door, leading underground. He turned and beckoned to the Commander, as she was lagging behind. "It won't take very long!" he called.
She didn't reply. Falco wondered why he'd thought she would in the first place. Slightly flustered, he hurried down the steps to the cellar awaiting him. The Commander was already making her way down. Falco grinned, hardly able to contain his excitement as pushed open the much heavier door with some effort; the architecture below ground was older, and as such not exactly designed for ease of access or frequent use.
But the door moved with greater ease than he had anticipated, startling Falco. He quickly realised that the Vice Commander was assisting him.
He recoiled, then coughed as the stagnant air temporarily overwhelmed his nostrils. A faint yellow glow emanated from within the room.
"This is an ordinary cellar, Grice," said the Vice Commander. "I'm not sure what you want me to…" she trailed off, noticing the light.
"There's someone I'd like you to meet, Commander. Look, if you'll wait outside for just a moment, I can get us a torch." And before she could ask more or try and stop him, he had moved past her. "Mr. Krueger?" Falco called, trying not to cough. "It's—it's me again."
Krueger looked up quizzically from where he had reposed himself upon a simple wooden chair. Upon recognising Falco, he relaxed somewhat. "Oh. Hullo, Falco."
The source of light came from an oil lantern set upon the single box adjacent to him. (His crutch was laid out on the floor beside him; Falco wondered briefly how he aimed to move about unassisted.)
"Grice? Who's in there with you?"
Falco hastened over to the far-right corner of the room and looked beneath the dusty wooden table. To his relief, the electric torch was exactly where he'd left it. Fumbling for the switch, he turned it on.
"Grice, answer me. Who's in there?"
"At least it works," muttered Falco to himself, turning back to Krueger, who merely raised his eyebrows. "Er, sorry, Mr. Krueger," Falco said awkwardly. He hoped he didn't sound too nervous as he made his way over to the door again. "Look, Commander, I've got this." He brandished the torch, adding somewhat unnecessarily, "You know, in case the lantern goes out."
Commander Leonhardt just stared at him impassively. Deciding he ought to interpret that as a sign of grudging compliance, Falco stepped out of the way, gesturing to the man in the chair:
"O.K, Mr. Krueger, I'd like you to meet Vice Commander Leonh—"
He faltered mid-sentence as Krueger's smile vanished almost immediately to be replaced by a look of…was it shock? Confusion? It wasn't at all the reaction Falco had anticipated. He turned around and realised Vice Commander Leonhardt was more-or-less in a similar state.
"Uh. Is everything all right?" Falco enquired, a bit crestfallen. "I heard the two of you were friends, so I thought I'd surprise you…."
Neither Krueger nor the Vice Commander acknowledged this, instead choosing to size one another up. There was something in Vice Commander Leonhardt's expression that belied the opposite of camaraderie, but Falco only gleaned it for a moment, and even so, he was unsure what to make of the silence that had infiltrated the room. Perhaps he had misunderstood something else?
"Thanks, Falco," said Krueger at length, not taking his eyes off her. "She's an old friend of mine. We haven't seen each other in a few years, so it's a bit surprising. I'm glad you brought her."
Vice Commander Leonhardt glanced back sharply at Falco, who was beginning to suspect he'd inadvertently done wrong.
"You can sit if you like," Krueger offered, and motioned to the single chair adjacent him.
But Commander Leonhardt remained where she was.
"This is a nice spot, under the residence building," Krueger said, addressing Falco now. "You can hear all the commotion going on, all the good people waiting for the curtain to rise, right on top of us." He pointed at the ceiling, and Falco gasped as the motion revealed a shallow gash, still fresh.
"Mr. Krueger, you're bleeding."
Krueger blinked, as though just noticing it himself. "Oh… Yeah, it's nothing serious."
It was only now that Vice Commander Leonhardt moved. She stepped forward and placed her body in front of Falco. One hand drifted to her hip in tandem as though to draw a weapon; Falco was alarmed by the gesture, looking to Krueger for a reaction.
"Annie," said Krueger calmly. "It's all right."
She paused without lowering her hand.
Where on Earth does he know Commander Leonhardt from, if he's on those kind of terms with her? Falco wondered, now far less confident about his stakes in the situation. Maybe he ought to leave the two old friends to their business. "I-I can take my leave, of course," he suggested hastily, then balked as both adults turned their attention on him.
"No, Falco. You should stay awhile and listen for yourself," Krueger said. He remained calm, and yet a strange authority had entered his voice.
"They'll wonder why we turned up missing," said Leonhardt coldly. "Do you really want the Marley breaking into these people's homes, right in the middle of a celebration?"
Krueger seemed to consider that. "Not if it's preventable."
Her scowl deepened. "You shouldn't be here, Jaeger."
"I could say the same about you."
Falco frowned. Wait, Jaeger? I suppose that could be his last name, but—
"Don't change the subject," the Vice Commander growled. "What the hell have you been up to?"
Krueger sighed. "Now, that's a very long story, and we don't have enough time to go over it in detail. Suffice to say, I had a bit of trouble settling in at first. But once I was used to the way of things—"
"Get to the point," Commander Leonhardt interrupted harshly.
"Asking me why I'm doing this isn't going to solve anything," Krueger retorted. "It's inevitable, really. You of all people should know that by now." He smiled vaguely. It didn't quite reach his eyes. "Have you seen your father, then?"
A tension subsisted in Commander Leonhardt's shoulders. "That's none of your concern. What are you—?"
"Planning?" Krueger concluded. "I thought it would be obvious."
"I didn't think you'd sink low enough to drag a child into this," said Annie harshly. Alarmed at the notion, Falco looked between the two of them for any indication to the contrary, finding none. Krueger remained silent, and she finally snapped: "Are you going to defend yourself at all, or am I going to have to carry the entire conversation?"
"Sorry," said Krueger. "I just don't have much to say." A resounding roar sounded from above them, echoing off the stone walls. Krueger perked up. "Wait. It's starting."
Before Falco could gather his wits enough to enquire, they heard the voice of William Tybur:
"…and now that you are all sitting comfortably, I would like to regale you with an old tale. It begins one hundred years ago, when the Eldian Empire rose to power and conquered all who opposed them, using the power of the Titans."
A low rumbling followed this proclamation, and then the beginning of a glorious ensemble. Drums, Falco realised. And trumpets, horns. Are those strings? Do they have a full orchestra up there? Fleetingly, he wished he were up in the seats with the Gabi and the other Warriors.
"Ever since the start, countless lives have been lost at the hands of the Titans. According to recent studies, the number of those who perished by their hands exceeds our current human population over the globe by three-fold."
Tybur paused, as if to let the figure sink in, and then continued grimly: "It's an unbelievable number. And to think, that all those lives and cultures were extinguished in such a short time. This massacre is part of our history as much as the Eldians'.
"But at last, when all their enemies had been vanquished, a schism erupted within the inner workings of Eldia's own empire. The Eight Houses that held the power of the Titans were caught in an endless cycle of conspiracy and betrayal, and so began the war of Titans."
A low murmur swept over the crowd before the music resumed; winds, strings, horns. Tybur had the crowd entranced. Falco couldn't help but be swept up in the moment, too.
"But there was one lone Marlian," Tybur continued, "who was courageous enough to take stock of his opportunity that fate had presented: Heros. Because of his sagacity, he was able to ensure his own safety while the Eldian Empire killed itself off, leading each House against the next, one-by-one. And when the fighting had ceased, he rose from the ashes, together with the Tybur family, and they successfully banished the Eldians to a small, uninhabited island, off the coast of Africa."
Even Krueger and Commander Leonhardt were listening intently by now.
"But the conflict had yet to resolve. After all, King Fritz still held an insurmountable power. In his prison, he sought to prepare many hundreds of Titans in order to lay waste to the rest of the world. The fact that our country has remained safe from such an onslaught is…well, some would say it's God's will. I, myself, wonder if it may be little more than mere coincidence.
"In order to combat the threat, our forces sent four Titans, our best and brightest Warriors, to the island of Madagascar, in the hopes of infiltrating Paradis. Yet in four years, we have only been able to retrieve one of them! We have sent thirty-two naval ships to scout the waters surrounding the island, yet every single one has disappeared without a trace. And from this, there can be only one conclusion: The Empire of Eldia is very much alive, and resisting to this day."
Silence fell over the area. Even the music lowered.
"You, Reiner and Bertholdt. You were three of the four," said Krueger at last, addressing Vice Commander Leonhardt. "On a mission to save the world from folks like myself. Is that right?"
She didn't speak for a moment. When she found her voice, it was with resignation, and she didn't look at Krueger or Falco: "We were children."
"Of course," Krueger mused. "None of us were the wiser. It's understandable that you and I turned out this way."
The music kicked into life again, and the crowd was heightened with intrigue. Falco recalled himself, looking from Commander Leonhardt to Krueger. What's he up to, anyway? He shouldn't know any of this if he's a prisoner of war….
At the thought, his blood ran colder. Oh, God. Mr. Krueger said she was an old friend, and he's known her for years, but he didn't say how many—and the only people Commander Leonhardt could have met during that time would have to be during her years on Paradis. But that would be absurd….
Yet Falco couldn't quite wrap his head around any other conclusion. Horror seeped into his mind like oil over water. No. That'd be insane!
But at that moment, the crowd and orchestra fell back into a charged silence, allowing Tybur speak: "And now, we approach the real issue of this evening. The story I have told you was, at one time, compromised of facts well-known to the world. But the bare truth diverges in more than one place. It comes as an inheritance from the Tyburs, passed down by the Warhammer Titan. After many decades of settling for what we could scrounge up from Eldian propaganda, I am proud to say, that at last we are able to reveal the truth—or come closer to it.
"And the truth is this—that the one to extinguish the great Titan War was neither Heros, nor the Tybur family, as I have erroneously proclaimed. The real mastermind, the one who saved the world, was a man named Karl Fritz.
"You know him as King Fritz. But in the year 145, Karl Fritz was able to inherit the powers of the Progenitor Titan—and in that time, he had grown weary of the unending struggle between his own people. He was unable, or unwilling, to bear the Marlian's continuous oppression. Yet he did conspire with the Tyburs, and made a great sacrifice in the hopes of ending this bloody strife the Eldian Empire had wrought.
"Heros was elected by the Tyburs and Fritz, a willing martyr to play the part of their saviour. And as it had been planned, Eldia was torn apart, and Fritz was then able to take as many Eldians as possible to the island of Madagascar, into Paradis, whereupon he sealed them away behind our very Walls we had built for them.
"But before he closed himself off, he left a warning: if the peace was ever disturbed, he would then mobilise an army of Titan Shifters in retribution—but I think he had another motive."
Falco's mind had disconnected from his body. He heard the music blaring as though underwater. Krueger's remark was likewise lost on him.
"I believe," said William Tybur, "that in order to make sure that each heir would fall in line with his own perversion of peace, Karl Fritz made an oath to renounce the war entirely. But it was not merely an oath of words—its design manifested within those who had inherited the blood of royalty. Therefore, even to this day, only these descendants are able to access the power of the Founder—the Progenitor Titan—and thereby control all other Titans, and re-write the memories of those less fortunate within the Walls of Paradis.
A steady hush fell over the crowd. Tybur's words took on a graver tone:
"It has been so for many years. Each new generation of royalty has inherited the ideals of Fritz, and no Titan from Paradis has ever raised a hand against us. So you see, the man's desire was only for peace on Earth, and the release of the Marley from their oppression. And if, come one morning, the Marley shall rise to power again, and steal away the Progenitor Titan, I will accept it. If they truly wish to eradicate all Eldians, I will accept it. For the sin they have committed is beyond God, beyond the work of any Devil. The birth and subsequent existence of Titans cannot be atoned for—we can only hope to vanquish them."
Unease seemed to spread among the members of the audience. They erupted into hushed conversation, no longer willing to sit by idly. Falco couldn't make out what was being said, but by now he was close to sickness with anticipation.
"I'm not finished. There is another important piece to King Fritz's message—Until the day of reckoning, I wish that those who dwell inside the Walls will be able to enjoy a safe and peaceful haven, and live their lives out as they see fit.
Listening closely, Falco could hear protests, other people arguing among themselves until William resumed:
"But in recent years, a revolution has taken place within Paradis, and resulted in the annihilation of Karl Fritz's ideology. The Progenitor's power was stolen by a certain individual, one man who wishes to undo all the work that Fritz had done to create peace."
Krueger had gone very pale. His hands curled on themselves and he visibly trembled. Commander Leonhardt seemed strangely helpless.
"The world is once more in grave danger, due to the workings of a man by the name of Eren Jaeger."
At this, Krueger exhaled audibly, his eyes brimming with a kind of silent mania, then relief. But he turned his gaze to Commander Leonhardt with a curious expression—was it pity? or regret?—before seeming to calm entirely, and he began removing his bandages.
"What are you—?" Falco blurted without thinking, moving towards him. Commander Leonhardt reached back to grab his arm in an oddly maternal gesture.
Krueger didn't seem to hear anything, his hands steadying as he worked. His face contorted slightly as the flesh contacted the air with an unnatural hiss, then gradually began issuing steam.
"Jesus Christ," said Commander Leonhardt faintly. Falco understood what was happening but would not allow himself the benefit of total comprehension. He was sure that he had never been more terrified in his life, not even that time Captain Magrath had busted him and Udo for a stupid prank they'd pulled on Gabi, but now—
"You. You tricked me," Falco said, struggling to force the words out. "You encouraged me at my lowest, and all this time you were only—"
Krueger—or was it Eren?—merely glanced at him without a rebuke before returning to his task. "Oi, wait a moment!" Falco cried, finally finding his voice, struggling to accept what was right in front of him, "I don't understand any of this! Mr. Krueger, you're—you're a soldier from the war, how did you…?"
Krueger's eyes dimmed. In the violent light of the torch, his age became much more apparent. For the first time, Falco noticed his face was scarred over under his darkened eyes and jaw. Porco and Pieck always get lines like those after they've Shifted. There's no way to replicate them.
"It's nothing personal, Falco," said Eren Krueger. "You were a great help. I'm sure I would have been caught some time ago, had it not been for your intervention."
"The letters!" Falco exploded, his emotions propelling him where the initial shock had faded, "All those letters you had me send, the ones to your family—"
"They weren't to my family, no. But they did reach my comrades." Krueger trailed off, attempting to put pressure on his malformed limb, then wincing. "Shit. Guess I won't be walking for a while."
At this point, Falco was well past numb. His back impacted the wall as Commander Leonhardt turned to him in concern. His legs gave out and he sank to meet the cold ground, his mind whirling with endless, horrific possibilities….
Then Krueger met his eyes. Falco flinched, expecting an attack, but the man only said: "If I were in your place right now, I'd be just as confused. But if a soldier has time enough to care about everyone he's met along the way to his destination, well. How would he be expected to win a war?"
Falco found he had nothing to say. Tybur's voice drifted in: "Once it is triggered, the world will be devastated. In order to stop that from happening, we must act now…"
"Eren," said Commander Leonhardt slowly, "what have you done?"
The man only smiled at her, wanly. His weariness was palpable.
"What are you, really?" Falco whispered.
Krueger—or Eren Jaeger; whomever he was—affixed him with a hollow smile. "I am precisely what William Tybur's making me out to be; a monster, who could easily lay waste to the rest of the world if I wanted. But then, it's not unlike how I used to think of your people." Commander Leonhardt glared at him as he continued: "It was the day you broke through the Walls and allowed my hometown to be overrun with Titans, and I watched my mother as she was devoured alive. As a child I always wondered afterwards, why did so many innocents go through such a terrible thing? I couldn't reason it to myself, no matter how I tried. So what do you think?"
Commander Leonhardt shuddered. "This isn't funny anymore, Eren."
"I'm not laughing. I just want to know," he reasoned. "Why do you think it happened?"
He held her gaze until she relented, drawing a vicious breath to retort: "We had a mission to protect our country from yours. If we were successful, we could go home. That was all that mattered, to me."
"What about the others?" Krueger enquired. "Bertholdt and Reiner. There was a fourth among you, no?"
"Reiner was an idiot," she said, almost wretched, "who got it in his head that he was supposed to lead us on, save the goddam world from your fucking island. And me and Bertholdt were cowards to let him go that far, even after Marcel—you don't understand what I've—"
With a tiny jolt, she seemed to recall Falco's presence. Rounding upon him, her eyes were over-bright, her expression horror-struck and angry, as though simultaneously daring him to challenge her and sickened by what she had revealed. Before he could say anything at all, she'd averted his gaze.
"I wouldn't go that far," said Krueger gently. "Before I crossed the ocean, I thought of everything across it as the enemy. And yet, once I got there, and I slept under their roof, and walked among their people, and ate with them, talked to them, I began to realise that I was no different. Of course, some among them pissed me off… but others were truly good people."
He glanced kindly at Falco, who felt paralysed within confliction. Even if he tried to disregard the pain and outrage of betrayal, Mr. Krueger didn't at all resemble the madman from Tybur's speech, and yet…why else would Commander Leonhardt have cause to react in such a manner? How should this fellow know as much as he did about the state of Paradis and the world at large?
But what kind of madman would freely admit his own transgressions? When did a heartless murderer ever take the time to reason with his enemies, ask them of their cause before pulling the proverbial trigger?
"Whether we are on the sea, or inside the Walls," said Eren Krueger, "there is no difference. Still you were taught as children that my people, these Eldians inside Paradis, were devils, Godless monsters. You were but children, who had no means of protection from the adults who knew nothing themselves. What could a child, any child, be expected to do in the face of such an agenda?"
Silence held for a moment.
"Reiner knew I was weak. Bertholdt, too." Commander Leonhardt's words were vicious and seemed to pour out of her without control: "I should have been able to wipe out your comrades, I was given countless opportunities to detain you, and still I didn't succeed, because I was arrogant enough for pity." Her mouth twisted. "You should have killed me years ago, when you had the chance."
For the first time, Eren's face darkened. He was not particularly broad, yet he was still a tall man, even sitting, and in the shadows cast by the lantern's light, shrouded behind his dark hair, he was suddenly imposing. "You deserted us," he said, very quietly. "By your logic, I ought to have killed you a long time ago. I guess that makes me arrogant, as well."
His visible eye was cold, yet the tone in his voice didn't quite match. He wasn't angry, though, almost… penitent? Disappointed? It was the closest he had come thus far to exposing his own human infirmity, which ironically made him somehow more frightening.
Annie shuddered on an exhale. "Yes, I escaped. I deceived you. When the Marley found me, they took me back and called me a hero, but I knew better than to believe it. In a few years I'll be dead, and my Titan will be given to someone who is more deserving of the honour. I'm sorry to disappoint you." She didn't sound sorry at all.
But Krueger only said: "I imagine your father must've been grateful to see you again."
"Don't you dare," she snarled, her voice cracking, "bring my father into this, you son-of-a-bitch, haven't you done enough—" She stopped herself. Eren permitted her a moment to regain her composure while Tybur's impassioned words drifted in through the window:
"But I do not wish to die. I have already been born into this world. I know we may come from different races and countries, but I ask you for your hands, and your undying devotion! I ask you to join me in my desire to see a world unclouded by war, for a better future! I ask you now to join me in the fight against the Devils of Paradis!"
Cheers and roars for blood resounded in equal measure.
"I may not be able to completely understand everything you have been subject to," said Eren, "but I can, at the very least, try and sympathise. Because I do understand some things. More than you'd like me to, perhaps. But I do."
"—the fact remains, there are many conflicts these armies of the world must overcome before we may all join hands in battle—"
He seemed to brace himself, then with a little shudder, got to his feet. He wavered, unsteady, and then began to limp towards them. Vice Commander Leonhardt tightened her grip on Falco, pushing him in the direction of the door.
"—if we are ever to face this great enemy, we must join forces. And there will be no threat on Earth that we cannot vanquish!—"
"Tybur's right, anyway," said Krueger, offering his injured hand to her. "I can't do this alone. No one can. And that's why I'm asking you to help me."
Commander Leonhardt was speechless. She did not reach for a weapon, nor did she release Falco's arm.
"Annie," he implored. "I don't have much time left. I need you."
Falco gasped as her grip on his arm turned bruising. "I can't," she whispered. She shuddered when Krueger took her hand.
"—I, William Tybur, will act as the Marlian government's special envoy—"
"You have a chance," he insisted. "Here and now. To redeem yourself for your shortcomings. To stop all of this, and be free."
"—let us all pray for peace!—"
"Commander?" Falco said weakly.
She grit her teeth. "It's going to be all right, Falco." A thrill of confusion and dread afflicted him; she'd never used anything but his surname before.
"I will keep moving forward," Eren declared, "until the day I eradicate my enemy." He paused. "But you needn't be one of them." Either he was a frighteningly expert liar, or he meant the words wholly. Falco couldn't decide which outcome was worse.
"—for it is on this night, that the island of Paradis and our countries are at war!" Tybur roared. The crowd by now was ecstatic; their applause, thunderous.
The Vice Commander didn't falter. She looked at Eren as he looked at her, trapped within a silent exchange to which Falco was not privy.
What happened next came about in mere seconds; Commander Leonhardt shoved Falco towards the door and he dropped the torch with a clatter. Fumbling desperately for the handle, turning around just in time as Eren grasped her tightly.
"RUN!" she shouted, and Falco saw the despair flash in both their eyes before the cellar exploded into brilliant auburn light.
Update , 3/23/18: Dorminchu here! Fixed some small details, repetitive wording, and added a sort of progression from "Krueger" to "Eren" within the narrative. Get ready for part two!