Categories > Anime/Manga > Attack on Titan > A Matter of Stature

Part 10

by Milia 0 reviews

A girl from Sina is engaged to a man she's never met. She must find out why and solve the hidden secrets of her family. (LevixReader, ErenxMikasa)

Category: Attack on Titan - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama,Humor,Romance - Published: 2015-05-03 - Updated: 2015-05-03 - 15329 words - Complete

A Matter of Stature

Chapter 46: Flowers for the Dead

You spent what felt like an hour in the forest, searching for mini titans, going deeper into the forest than you had earlier. A few three to five meter titans came by to disrupt the mission, but they were normal, human eater, non-explosive titans, that were swiftly dispatched by the scouts on guard duty.

"What's that?" Levi noticed something and got off Cali to check. You looked over as he searched the nearby bushes, having spotted a color that didn't seem to belong among the green vegetation. He pulled out a slightly mistreated but still in good condition bouquet of roses with a sky-blue ribbon tying the dozen roses together. Peculiarly, the thorns had all been removed and the roses looked fresh, as if they were picked relatively recently. "Someone was here," he concluded, and it wasn't a scout, since there was no reason for anyone to carry a bouquet of roses to a mission, plus there weren't many medicinal plants in that area of the forest, so none of the scouts should have gone that far before.

"Aw," Hange popped up behind Levi, going into all out shipping mode. "Did you get those flowers for (Name)? How sweet! "

"That's right, four eyes, I came all the way out here early in the morning, across the mutant titan infested field and hid these flowers in this bush. Then I went back to the city, just in time to go out of the gates along with everyone else and cleverly led the expedition to this very spot, so I could find the flowers and present them to (Name)." You laughed at Levi's smart mouth while Hange looked like she was considering making the feat the plot of her next fanfiction.

After the moment of distraction, Erwin took a moment to examine the bouquet, but found nothing out of the ordinary about it, except its location. "Hange, you're sure none of the scouts came out this far?"

"I'm pretty sure," Hange replied. "They would have passed (Name) or me on the way here and it would have taken them a while to rejoin the formation when we left the forest. I mean, it's not 100%, but it would be difficult to slip by and come all the way here, just to leave these flowers behind."

Why someone would take flowers to a battlefield made no sense what so ever, but it was at least a vague clue. "If these flowers were purchased in town, then that could give us a clue about who was here and we'll know where to direct our questions," Erwin theorized.

You kept looking at the flowers with curiosity. There was just something about them that seemed familiar. "So, are you going to give them to (Name)?" Hange inquired once again. "I know they're evidence and all, but she's looking at them."

"I was thinking they remind me of something." You clarified, so that no one would get the silly idea in their head that you were actually being distracted by flowers in the middle of the mission, though you still appreciated Hange's attempt to lighten the tension brought by the uncertainty.

"Of what?" Erwin asked with interest, as if looking for clues.

You shrugged, making it clear that you didn't think it was a particularly important detail. "We used to have roses like this at Sina. My father would always give me a bouquet on my mother's birthday in remembrance of her because they were her favorite. He'd remove all the thorns too."

"Flower shops might not always do that," Erwin mused unsure, glancing at another of the scouts for confirmation. "What do you think?"

"They don't," the man replied with certainty. "Trust me, I know," he showed his hands with small cuts on them, as if indicating he had to do a similar task recently. You tried to recall the man's name. His light brown hair and amber eyes didn't particularly stand out in your mind, but after a while you were able to put a name to his face. Raphel, you had heard about him before when the scouts were abuzz with the news of his engagement. His bride to be had gone to see him off at the gate and he had given her roses before leaving on the mission. You caught a brief glimpse of her, but your mind was occupied in other things and you couldn't conjure a clear picture in your memories as to what she looked like.

Tarok shook his head at his friend's clumsiness from his perch up in a tree, the tension in his eyes not easing at the lighter moment. You didn't know him too well either. You just knew that he had been in the Survey Corps for quite some time and he had a wife and two young kids at Rose. They lived very close to the gates and had been there to see him off as well, boldly declaring that they would one day be going along outside with the scouts. Though Tarok's wife was surprisingly supportive of their declarations, Tarok himself usually gently suggested that they might want to pursue a different career path. You got the impression that he assured his family so much so they wouldn't worry about him, that he assured them a little too much and the kids thought that being a scout was a lot easier than it actually was.

That was all there was, just the seven of you. Erwin, Levi, Hange, Mikasa, Raphel, Tarok and you, the others were either dead or at Rose. You could almost hear the wheels in Erwin's head turning. Did he suspect your uncle, did he see the flowers as a connection to your family? Yet the question still remained, why in the world would anyone carry a bouquet of roses into a battle field? The team was still looking around and quietly deliberating when Fluffy started howling and squirming to get out of the saddlebag on Erwin's horse.

Everyone took it as a sign of danger and looked all around to determine where the titan was before figuring out where to head. Strangely, there was no sign of any titan anywhere. "I'll take a look higher up," Mikasa offered.

"Alright," Erwin agreed, while he went to get Fluffy out of the saddlebag, keeping a firm grasp on her leash.

Mikasa returned from the tree top, "if there's a titan out there, it's not too big, because I didn't see anything above the trees," she informed.

You curiously looked at Fluffy, she was set on pulling Erwin in a specific direction, a fact that didn't go unnoticed by the others. When there was danger, Fluffy barked and ran away, or in this case, when she was carried away from the danger, she calmed down, sensing that she was heading to safety. She never really tried to indicate which direction to travel in, she just wanted to be away from the danger. Plus this was a different signal, why was she howling like that and pulling the leash so adamantly? "Be on the lookout everyone," Erwin reminded. "Let's investigate what our little friend found."

The group began to head deeper into the forest. Through thick vegetation, Mikasa spotted a titan and alerted everyone. "It's just sitting there," she observed.

"(Name) keep her quiet," Erwin gave you Fluffy's leash, which you held tightly, wrapped around your wrist.

You did your best to calm your pet. "Shh, it's ok Fluffy, shh, be quiet now, we know the titan's there, it's alright." You spoke softly and petted her. She seemed to get the message and calm down. The strange thing was that she was leading you towards a titan and not away from one this time.

"We'll approach carefully, I think there might be something different about this one," Erwin theorized, though he couldn't guess exactly what was different.

Hange was bursting with excitement, as expected of her. "Can I go first?" She jogged in place, hardly able to contain herself.

"Slowly, don't startle it," Erwin cautioned. Hange nodded and slowly approached the titan.

As soon as the creature saw Hange, it stood. Now that the titan was standing up, you could distinguish a female-like appearance. It's skin looked very pink, with a few patches missing in seemingly random patterns, showing red muscle tissue. Her lower right jaw had all the skin missing from it, leaving her teeth visible and her left eye seemed larger than her right. Her legs seemed larger than they should be in comparison to her thin arms, and her fingers were disproportionately long. The titan was not a pretty sight except for one detail, her translucent strands of hair that reflected the light and displayed a show of colors like a prism. Her hair was magnificently beautiful, making the rest of the creature's grotesque appearance more obvious.

"Hi there," Hange smiled, "I'm Hange, can we be friends?" The female titan dashed away. "Wait! come back!"

Fluffy started pulling on her leash again and howling, insisting that the titan should be chased after. "I really think there's something strange about that one," you reinforced the theory.

Levi nodded in agreement, "even for an abnormal, running away from humans like that is strange, and four eyes wasn't even as creepy as she usually is this time."

"Hey!" Hange pouted in frustration. She expected the titan to try to grab her or bite her because that's what titans normally did, even when she tried to be friendly to them, but this reaction caught her off guard.

"After her!" Erwin galloped forward in pursuit, with the whole team taking to their horses and following him. "We can't let her escape, she may hold too many answers!" The slow advance was forfeited in favor of a chase. Even if the move was risky, you simply couldn't afford to lose the suspicious titan, yet the thick vegetation didn't make the chase any easier.

The group slowed down in a clearing in the forest. Fluffy had stopped her howling, the scent of the long haired titan woman too far for her to react to it. Erwin frowned in frustration, realizing that he had no idea where she went. She was small enough not to be seen above the tree tops and very agile. Even the way she ran was unusual, as if each step was more like a jump of which she landed on the tip of her toes. She deliberately avoided stepping on any bushes and left no significant clues to her direction on the grass. She could have turned in any direction and it would be practically impossible to tell. This titan was definitely smart if she knew how to run away without leaving a trail of broken branches and flattened bushes. It was also further a testament to her agility and precision if she could actually put such a strategy into action with such speed.

"We lost her," Erwin acknowledged in frustration. "It's risky, but we'll have to fan out and find her. She's too suspicious to let her get away, she may be human and if we can get her out of her titan form, we might have all the answers we need."

"Over there!" Tarok suddenly called with urgency, pointing behind a nearby tree. Everyone looked, expecting to see a sign of the female titan, but instead there was another of the human size titans there.

"I'll go," you got off Knight, leaving Fluffy inside the saddle bag and approached the young man. He looked identical to the others, blond hair, green eyes, titan anatomy, scared expression. His eyes were fixed on you as you approached. "It's ok, I won't hurt you." When you got closer, he dashed to you and hugged you, as if seeking protection. "Shh, it's alright, no one will hurt you." You petted the creature's head reassuringly. He began to pull on the sleeve of your Survey Corps jacket, glancing in a certain direction as if wanting you to follow. Fluffy was quiet, the female titan was nowhere to be seen and this strange creature apparently had something to show you.

The being's attempts to make you follow were not lost to your companions. "Let's go with him," Erwin encouraged you to play along with the creature's wishes for now.

You let the little titan lead you away, a putrid smell suddenly invading your nose. Fluffy was still quiet, though she surely noticed the scent, this wasn't what she alerted to though. She was watching out for titans and this was the scent of dead humans. You didn't recall anyone dying in the forest, plus the smell was too pungent to be that of a recent death. The body, or bodies, had been lost in the forest for a while, but how was that even possible if this was the first Survey Corps mission in some time? Did they die in the last one so long ago? You didn't recall anyone mentioning the forest then, so it couldn't be.

You wrinkled your nose in disgust as you and your companions pressed on deeper into the heart of the forest. You spotted something white and red on the ground that seemed out of place with the rest of the scenery. Levi walked ahead to investigate what the thing was, with Hange joining in observing the item. She curiously picked it up, aware that Levi wouldn't be too fond of touching the blood stained thing, even if the blood was dried up by now. "It's a hat," Hange announced with perplexity.

The little titan kept pulling you further ahead, while Levi took a moment to look over the bushes near the hat in the opposite direction, his hand covering his nose and mouth at this point. Levi called Erwin over in a tone that you knew he was forcing to be soft and calm. Whatever he saw was not a pleasant sight. He might have discovered the body of the unfortunate owner of the hat, a white chef's hat...just like the one Artie would often wear.

The little titan was pulling you further ahead, the body was not what he was trying to show you, but with a cold chills running up and down your spine, you were drawn to the place where Erwin had gone to examine the findings. You took the small titans' hand and gave him a forced reassuring smile, you couldn't lose him, but you couldn't ignore this. You walked with him until you saw the body, he must have died at some point after the scouts' last mission and before this one. The body was starting to decompose but you could still recognize him.

"Artie?" You felt tears running down your face as your hand went limp. The small titan let out an earsplitting wail and cling to you, hiding his face from the sight of the dead body, in terror. Erwin said something, but you didn't quite catch it. Levi came over to lead you away from the scene, the small titan moving along with you, his face buried on your shoulder. Hange had gone to look around and came back to say something to Erwin and point in another direction. You didn't have to see it to know it was there, no doubt about it, she must have found Melinda's body.

The small titan fell to his knees, arms wrapped around your waist, he wailed with his face against your stomach. You patted the creature's head absentmindedly, his blond hair passing softly between your fingers, then he looked up at you with those terrified green eyes and something clicked in your mind. In one fatal whisper you were able to identify them, him, they were all the same, "Tony?"

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 47: The City Calls

Fluffy started barking, snapping you awake from your many confusing thoughts. Mikasa located the titan, seven meters tall, normal, it hadn't spotted the group yet. The small titan suddenly looked alert, he looked through the foliage at the large titan ahead and began to dash towards it. "No!" You ran after him, "come back here!" The little titan reached the large one and bit into its leg. The large titan growled and grabbed the little one.

Levi hooked his OMD onto the large titan's shoulder and cut off its arm to free the little one. You pulled the small titan out of the severed arm, holding him so he wouldn't throw himself at the large one again. You caught a glimpse of Melinda's body from the corner of your eyes. It felt wrong, but you forced the little titan to look. He screeched in fright and hit his face on your shoulder, but at least he wasn't running away anymore.

Hange came over with a rope to tie up the little titan. Meanwhile, the large titan had ran away, flailing randomly. Levi's ODM came off its shoulder with the movement, a piece of flesh attached to it. He voiced a few choice words of frustration and disgust as he removed the titan remains from the hook and retreated with the rest of you in case the arm exploded. The arm did not explode. "I'll finish it," Raphel offered, running ahead.

The titan reached a river and ran into its waters. Raphel hooked onto its back as a strange bump slipped down the titan's spine from the neck to the middle of the back under its skin. Raphel flew closer carried by his ODM, then the titan glowed red and before anyone could react, it exploded much faster than the other explosive titans had. Raphel was too close, he was blown apart, while the rest of you were thrown to the ground by the shock of the explosion, broken branches and flying rocks assaulting the group.

After the explosion, there was a deadly silence, then the little titan screamed and dissolved into dust that soon became imperceptible. Trembling, you began to get up. Your eyes widened in horror when your realize that there were droplets of blood on your clothes, Raphel's blood.

The six remaining scouts regrouped and tried to make sense of the situation. Levi was angry, wishing he had finished off the titan faster, you could see it in his face, even if he didn't say it. It didn't make sense that the arm didn't explode but the titan did. Tarok was in shock, Raphel had been his best friend, a sort of adoptive younger brother in the Survey Corps.

"Everyone, stay calm, we need to figure this out," Erwin tried to get everyone back on the mission.

"The little titan bit the big one," Hange reviewed, "the arm didn't blow up, but the titan did," she paused in thought. "Alright, I'm coming up with a theory here. The little titans turn the big titans into explosive titans, they also change normals into abnormals at the same time. The little titans are the cause of the explosive titans. The arm didn't explode because the big one was just recently bitten and it took a moment for it to take effect."

Hange's theory was interrupted by Fluffy barking again. Mikasa took to the trees to spot the titan. "Two of them, about four and five meters, abnormal!" She paused as if something caught her attention, "three small titans, two on the five meter, one on the four meter!"

The scouts hurried to take care of the threat. Fluffy wouldn't stop barking and Knight started running, Cali following after him. The other horses ran in different directions, but there was no time to chase them, the titans were upon you.

"Capture the small ones before the large ones blow up!" Erwin ordered, the scouts were simply too close to the answers to let them go.

ODM hooks flew and everyone hurried to pry the little titans off the large ones before making any cuts. At least the large titans didn't have them in their hands. The five meter was doing a strange dance as it tried to get the two little titans off its ankles, while the four meter seemed confused by the pain on the back of its shoulder. You grabbed one of the little titans off the five meter and Hange pried off the other. The little titan recognized you, and having satisfied the irresistible need to spread the mutation, he hugged you, seeking the familiarity and security of a vague recognition. The one Hange had pulled off ran to you as well, and the pair made it difficult for you to further take part in the battle.

Levi pulled the third one off the four meter and carried the squirming human size titan to the ground, looking rather comical since the little titan was taller than him. As soon as Levi put him down, the creature joined his twins in clinging to you. "(Name), get out of here!" Levi urged.

"Going!" You fought to run away, the little titans clinging to you. You make yourself stronger to escape thier grasp, "let's go, follow me!" They didn't question it and dashed after you as you led them away from the area that you knew would be soon filled with explosions.

"I want to make an experiment!" Hange announced, "Let's take one of them to the river!"

"Take the smaller one," Erwin decided, having some idea of what Hange's experiment might consist of.

"It's dumber than a rock," Levi was standing on its head and the titan just hopped around. It knew something was wrong, but couldn't figure out what. Levi dangled one of his swords in front of the titan's face and it began to chase after it, allowing Levi to lead it to the river.

"Yahoo! Ride that bad boy!" Hange cheered, chasing after them. At the same time, Mikasa, Erwin and Tarok kept the five meter busy until you had retreated with the three little titans and Levi and Hange ran off with the four meter.

As soon as the coast was clear, Erwin finished the five meter titan and the scouts retreated away from the explosion. Twigs and pebbles flew everywhere, but everyone was far enough not to get injured aside from minor scratches and bruises. Another explosion sounded off from the river, it was the four meter titan.

Buried under the hugs of the three scared mini titans, you felt something nuzzling your shoulder that wasn't one of them. You looked over to see Knight, Fluffy was still with him and Cali was nearby. "You came back! Good boy!" You wanted to pet him in appreciation, but your arms were currently busy trying to keep the little titans calm, so you just leaned your head against your pet.

"Aw there's so much love for (Name)," Hange and the others arrived at your location. She elbowed Levi tesingly, "looks like you have some competition, cowboy." The three little titans went from clinging to you like scared children to dissolving into dust. The experience sent shivers down your spine and made you wonder where the original Tony was and how these little titans came to be as parts of him. "Alas, they love you and they leave you," Hange threw her arm on her forehead and leaned her head back dramatically. "I guess you better stick with Levi after all." She sighed in disappointment, "I really wanted to experiment on these little ones. I had even started to think of names for them. My sweet children, why do you abandon mama so suddenly?"

You couldn't help it but to giggle at Hange's antics despite everything that was going on. Part of you couldn't help it but to imagine Levi in a cowboy hat, riding on a titan's head, it was a pretty amusing mental picture.

Ignoring Hange's dramatics for the time being, Erwin consulted Levi about the results of the recent experiment. "What happened?"

"The titan exploded as soon as it came into contact with the water," Levi informed. The experiment had been a success, even if the three little titans were lost.

Erwin nodded and considered the next move. "We need to know how things are at the wall." He held out his binoculars, "Mikasa, you're a fast climber." He didn't have to say anything more before she disappeared in a blur of motion, off to the tree tops, binoculars in hand.

Mikasa looked towards the edge of the forest and the wall beyond. A few little titans were exiting the edge of the forest, five of them, they rode on the head and shoulders of a ten meter abnormal and there were several other large titans nearby. The little titans jumped from one large titan to another, biting them and spreading their infection. Some were grabbed and eaten, though if they had the poison in them, then being consumed would probably have the same effect as the bites. Further ahead closer to the wall, several abnormals were running towards it. A few explosions were seen in the distance, the scouts that had gone back and weren't injured were fighting alongside the Garrison, the soldiers appearing as fast moving dots in the distance.

Then she saw him, in a cloud of titan steam, Eren's titan form appeared. The advancing giants were too many and Pixis determined that the wall would be in grave danger if the explosive monsters were allowed to get any closer, wall Rose was in an all out state of emergency. Mikasa was back on the ground in a flash. "We need to go back, Rose is in danger, there are too many titans, even for Eren."

"He transformed?" Erwin knew that Eren's titan form was for emergencies. If Pixis determined that it was time to send him out to battle, then the situation was more serious than he expected.

"Yes, I saw him. I saw five little titans, some were taken out and there were only three left. The large abnormals, there were more than a dozen of them, five to fifteen meters. I think most if not all of them are explosive," Mikasa explained with urgency.

"The secret of the explosive titans and the human size titans is in this forest, but wall Rose will fall if we don't go back now," Erwin decided. "We're heading back, we have the secret of the exploding titan's weakness. If we can prepare some kind of water cannons we can take them out from afar and minimize casualties and damage to the wall. This information is too vital, even if there are still too many secrets to be discovered in this forest, we must ensure that the discovery is known at Rose. We can't afford to split up and risk being unable to deliver the message, we're all going back for now."

No one had a single word of protest. The group hurried out of the forest, Tarok kept whistling, trying to attract the attention of the runaway horses in hopes that they would return. Aside from Knight and Cali, two other horses returned. There were four horses, six scouts, Erwin, Hange, Mikasa, Levi, Tarok and you. "(Name), I want you to deliver the message," Erwin decided. You were still needed to get to the bottom of the little titan mystery, so he assigned the safest position to you, or safer by comparison at least. "Don't fight the titans, just head for the city as fast as you can and leave the fighting to us. Go with Levi for now. Everyone, we'll ride as close as possible to the titans, then switch to ODM and open a path for (Name), our mission is to get her to the wall. (Name), as soon as you're close enough, climb the wall with ODM and deliver the news of the exploding titans' weakness to water, take the dog with you if you can."

"Hange, you and I will take the front, I got the left, you go right of (Name)'s path," Erwin continued. "Levi, you're in the center in front of (Name). Mikasa and Tarok make sure (Name) isn't stopped from behind, if you think any potential pursuers are far enough, then you can assist us in opening a path, it'll be your judgment call as needed. We can't trigger any explosions in (Name)'s path. Leave the slaying to Tarok and Mikasa when there's enough distance." He address them with the precaution, "Tarok, Mikasa, if you do slay any titans, make sure you can get away on time and don't set up any chain reactions. (Name), I'll have to borrow your horse." Erwin got on Knight, "Hange."

"Right behind you, literally," Hange hopped on as well behind Erwin, but Knight was a well bred strong stallion who could speedily carry them both.

"Go in front (Name), since you'll have to ride on your own when we get close to the titans," Levi helped you up onto Cali's saddle and handed you the reins. You took a deep breath and calmed your nerves, mentally preparing yourself for the next part of the mission. You closed your eyes, giving yourself a short moment to focus. You felt Levi's strong arms wrapped around your waist, his chest pressed against your back, and felt reassured.

Erwin gave the signal and the Survey Corps galloped out of the forest at full speed. Erwin and Hange speed up in front, Knight carrying them so fast that it was like his hooves spent more time in the air than touching the ground. Cali followed Knight with you and Levi. Mikasa and Tarok flanked you left and right on the other two horses. After making it out of the forest, you could see just how many explosive titans there were. There were more of them running towards the wall now and it had only been a few minutes since Mikasa estimated their count.

Eren was fighting hard. You saw him grab a three meter, squeezing its nape until blood gushed out. The dead titan began to glow red and Eren threw it at a fourteen meter nearby, blowing off its head. Pieces of the head flew in every direction, creating smaller explosions. It was clear why the Garrison had to fight away from Eren. There were simply too many explosions going off near him, but that also meant that he was basically fighting solo in that area and was severely outnumbered.

You drew closer to the titans and Erwin and Hange simultaneously switched to ODM, flying left and right, distracting the titans enough for you to dash by. They kept moving forward, opening a path for you. You felt Levi disappear from behind you as he switch to ODM. The rope of his ODM wrapped around a titan in front of your path, choking it. The creature was forced out of the way and you dashed forward, while Mikasa and Tarok made sure you weren't followed. Knight was temporarily disoriented with the loss of his two passengers, but as soon as he saw you dash by on Cali, he ran to catch up to you and ran next to you towards the wall.

You could see Eren to the far right, you couldn't run by him or you'd get caught in the explosions surrounding him. At least it looked like he was making progress, though you were concerned about how bloody his titan looked.

"Yahoo!" Hange had her ODM wrapped around a titan's jaw in its mouth. "Onward my explosive steed!" It took a very special kind of person to still be able to have fun in a situation like this. Silly fanfiction aside, you couldn't help it but to look up to Hange after this.

You heard explosions from behind, Mikasa and Tarok moved forward, leaving the explosions behind, though there weren't too many, as they were careful not to set up any chain reactions with exploding limbs that were blown off by other explosions. The wall came ever closer, and the closer you got the more Garrison soldiers you started to see. You thought you caught a glimpse of Jean and Sasha too, but the blur of colors around you were moving so fast that you weren't sure.

Hoping that Knight and Cali would know to stay safe near the wall, as soon as you calculated that your ODM gear could reach the wall, you shot the hook, pulling yourself towards it, while carrying Fluffy. You released the first hook and shot another to the top of the wall, half running and half jumping on the wall as you were pulled up. The Garrison soldiers on top of the wall working the canons thankfully noticed your advance and as you reached the top of the wall, a hand was extended to get you over the edge.

You accepted the help, your breaths heavy with adrenaline, the words were already spilling from your mouth before you even noticed that the one who had helped you up was Dot Pixis, "I bring important news! The weakness of the exploding titans is water!"

"Water!" Commander Pixis exclaimed, his eyes glancing at the clear blue skies for a split second. The chance of rain on that very day was basically non-existent. "You heard her, we need to prepare water cannons now!" Pixis was suddenly rapidly giving order, the Garrison soldiers moving quickly to accomplish what he commanded.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 48: Casualties of War

You looked at the battle field you left behind from the top of wall Rose. Knight and Cali were pressed against the wall, they were scared, but they were smart enough to stay close to the wall, you didn't think you could get them over, so unfortunately, they were stuck waiting out the battle until the gates could be opened. The horses Mikasa and Tarok were riding might or might not have gotten blown up or trampled, you didn't see them anywhere. Erwin, Levi, Mikasa and Tarok were as alright as they could be, you trusted in their skill, they were close to the wall, surely they had the sense to go back inside before they ran out of fuel.

"I'm going back out," you announced to no one in particular, since Pixis was busily running about, directing the Garrison. You checked your gas tanks, noting that they were nearly empty and reasoned that Erwin, Levi, Mikasa and Tarok's ODM gear tanks would be in the same conditions. It would be both foolish and useless to go out before refueling, so you went to look for more fuel.

"C'mon Fluffy," you held on to her leash to make sure she didn't get in the way of the running soldiers. She seemed to understand that she was safe on top of the wall and didn't bark at the titans nearby. You knew she was valuable to the scouts and more so valuable to you as your pet, but you didn't have time to take care of her, so you resolved to lock her in Pixis office on top of the wall. She was well behaved enough not to mess anything up in there and her new collar indicated she belonged to the scouts in case anyone from the Garrison wondered why there was a dog there.

You could hear Fluffy whimper behind the door, wanting to go with you, but you just couldn't take care of her at the moment. You glanced at the battle field. Erwin, Levi, Mikasa, Hange and Tarok were doing alright and they were moving closer to the wall, ready to go on the retreat, mindful of their remaining fuel. You wanted to wait for them, but felt that you shouldn't be standing still when there were so many people running around nearby.

You went looking for fuel to refill your ODM gear and rejoin the battle, but a Garrison soldier you didn't know called out to you. "Hey scout, give us a hand over here." You wanted to refuel and go back to where Levi and the others were, or at least stay on the wall where you could see them, but it felt wrong to refuse since you didn't exactly have something absolutely imperative to do.

"What do you need?" You asked, rushing over.

"We need to get these pipes ready to get the water to the top of the wall, help us assemble them and make sure there are no leaks," the Garrison soldier explained.

You nodded, "ok," then went on the task with automatic motions, while your mind was just outside the walls where Levi and the others were.

The pipelines were swiftly completed with team work, and water started being pumped to the top of the wall. With your task completed you were once again free to look for fuel, or look for Levi and the others, since they must be within the walls by now.

You returned to the top of the wall, searching for them and watched as the water cannons were fired and explosions started going off in the distance. The few remaining scouts that weren't injured and the Garrison were advancing with long hoses aiming the water at the titans, making them blow up away from the walls. More injuries followed when the chain reactions got out of control, but the exploding titans were finally being pushed back. You looked all around the battlefield, but you didn't see Eren anywhere.

You noticed someone climbing over the wall a few feet away and saw Mikasa peeking over, her attention on something next to her out of your view. You rushed over to help her over the wall and caught sight of Levi emerging on top of the wall beside her, his attention in the same area as Mikasa's. Upon getting closer, you realized that Eren was there, he must have been cut out of his titan after the giant sustained too much damage and became unable to fight on. You grabbed onto Eren's arms and helped pull him over the wall, falling into a sitting position with the mostly unconscious, but still living Eren falling on your lap.

"Thanks," Mikasa nodded at you as you passed Eren to her after she got herself completely over the wall. Though you initially expected her to throw his arm over her shoulder and half drag him while keeping him upright with her other arm around his waist, she opted for the much more practical bridal style of carrying the unconscious Eren, sometimes you forgot how incredibly strong she was. Was it just something about the Ackermans that made them stronger than the average human? That was a mystery for another day.

While Mikasa took Eren to rest, you took a moment to catch up with Levi. "I locked Fluffy in Pixis' office, I don't think he'll mind. Sorry I didn't rejoin the battle after delivering the message, I got caught up helping assemble the pipes and haven't even refueled yet.

"It's better that way, we need to get ready for the next expedition. (Name), this won't be easy, unless we stop this problem at the root, the battle won't end. We're pushing them back, but we haven't stopped the attack. I need you to go and rest now. Eat, sleep, your energy must be dangerously low by now and you can't get dizzy and faint during our next expedition," Levi insisted seriously, though you could feel the caring concern beneath his stern tone.

You nodded in understanding of the importance of being prepared, you were feeling tired but ignored your exhaustion because there was simply too much to do. "When's the next expedition?" You asked, guessing that it was soon if Levi was so adamant about you having a quick recovery.

"As soon as this wave of titans is suppressed, we're rounding up the scouts and returning to the forest," Levi explained. "Go rest now, consider that an order as a scout."

You nodded and put on an overly serious face as you saluted, "yes sir!" You continued normally, "I presume you'll be resting as well?"

"I'll rest enough," Levi replied, "now go, I need to take care of a few things first. You can rest at the medical center near the wall, I'll go find you later."

You nodded, knowing there was no use in arguing. At least if you were well rested, you'd be able to fight more strongly and that could make the difference out. You couldn't risk not being at your best and dragging your friends down, so you focused on the future and went to the medical center near the wall.

You expected the scene at the emergency clinic to be grim, with lots of injured people. The explosions meant plenty of blown off limbs, guts and gore that you rather not think about. The image of the pieces of Raphel were still fresh in your mind, plus it was something that happened right after you had seen the dead bodies of Artie and Melinda, how did they even get there? You felt that you needed to see your father and dashed out of the medical center and towards the structure that was once a bakery atelier and now it was simply your father's residence.

The place wasn't too far from the wall, it was still a good distance to run and having a horse would have been very convenient, but you managed on foot. You tried to open the door, to knock, to call out, but no one answered. Frightened, you went around the building and broke in through the back door, using your enhanced strength. You dashed through the house with growing worry, but you found nothing out of the ordinary. There were no signs of a fight, but there were also no signs of your father.

You focused on the fact that there were no signs of a fight. Your father was probably elsewhere. Maybe they moved him somewhere safe in light of the state of emergency near the wall. Feeling stupid, you went out and observed just how empty the streets were. You knocked on the neighbor's door and received no answer, you tried the next house with the same result. You let out a sigh of relief, feeling like an idiot. Of course, everyone that lived too close to the wall was either evacuated, or left of their own accord for safety reasons. At worse, your father was probably in a sea of people rushing to Sina. He'd probably come out of the experience with a few bruises, but surely he would be fine.

You hoped no one robbed the house, though you tried to make the backdoor look as intact as possible before leaving. You'd have to apologize for your outburst later and explain yourself. The stress of the mission must have been really getting to you if you were knocking down doors for no reason. Levi had told you time and again during training to stay calm and you thought that you were putting it into practice, but clearly you haven't been doing well enough if this happened. You resolved to do better as you rushed back to the medical center.

You arrived at the clinic out of breath and went in. Soldiers were still buzzing about near the wall, That, and the noisy explosions in the distance indicated that the battle was still going on. The medical facility was filled with many injured people, though they were unknown to you at a personal level, you did recognize a few of them from the scouts. The younger recruits from Eren's class had taken to you like a big sister, so you ended up hanging out with them the most. A few names floated in your mind as you saw the injured scouts, several of them were wrapped up like mummies, leaving only their faces visible, yet even then there were faces that were left unrecognizable by the injuries.

You saw Connie sitting on a bed, he couldn't walk without pain, but his injury wasn't too bad and he would recover. Still, he wouldn't be joining any expeditions any time soon. On the bed next to Connie's rested Jean, loudly snoring like a horse. "He dislocated his shoulder, but he's all patched up now and will recover," Connie explained. "There was this nurse with long dark hair that he tried to flirt with, but she just thought that he wanted the attention because he was in pain, so she gave him a sleeping pill to ease his suffering." Connie shook his head ruefully, his hands over his ears, "and he became the cause of my suffering."

You couldn't help it but to giggle," he really does sound like a horse."

"Yeah," Connie sighed hopelessly and laid back down on his bed. "If you see any pretty nurses that happen to be carrying sleeping pills, send them my way."

You smiled and assured, "will do!"

You continued exploring the clinic, looking for more of your friends instead of resting like you should. "(Name!)" You turned in the direction of the voice and saw Sasha. "I'm so glad you're back, here, I'll share my candy with you." She looked left and right before handing you a lollipop. "I stole them from the head nurse's office," she whispered.

You were glad to see that she was alright, though she did have bandages wrapped around her head. "I'll keep the secret, thank you," you hid the lollipop. "Are you doing alright?"

"Yup, I'm fine, the doctor said I had a concussion, but I feel fine really, so I offered to help the nurses take care of patients," once again, Sasha looked around to make sure no one was listening in on the conversation. "Hospital food really isn't so bad," she whispered. She pulled out a bread bun wrapped in a napkin from her scouts jacket which was buttoned up to hold the food. "Here, take this, there was some guy staring at me back there like he suspected something. I gotta go eat the other two before I get caught. See you later (Name)."

"See ya, and thanks," you shook your head, laughing quietly. Maybe that guy was staring at her because she looked like she had three boobs before. You saw a nurse with long dark hair and wondered if she was the girl Jean had flirted with earlier. Either way, you mentioned Connie's request for a sleeping pill and she said she'd take one to him right away, the concern in her eyes sincere, though just the same regardless of the subject of it.

No one questioned why you were eating a bread bun, or why you were eating a lollipop afterwards, they were too busy taking care of the patients around them, or crying in agony depending on the situation. You wondered how you were even able to keep the food down, though you arrived at the answer quickly enough, because you had to. You couldn't slow down, you couldn't take in the tragedies, your job as a scout wasn't done.

You jumped as a woman nearby screamed and your head snapped in her direction. You recognized the man consoling her as Tarok, his poofy black hair still messy from the battle, and realized the woman was his wife. Her clothes were torn and dirty, stained with blood, a cut on her arm was bleeding, but she wasn't cooperating with the nurse who was trying to tend to her, pushing her away instead. Tarok's brown eyes were closed tightly, his teeth pressed together. His hand drew circles across his wife's back trying to sooth her, though he seemed unable to speak, as if attempting to do so would cause him to break down too. A tear silently fell from his eye, then another, you nearly tripped as you stepped back from the scene unnoticed, catching only a glimpse of a bloody form on the bed behind them, a doctor hunched over the form, looking sad and apologetic.

The doctor exited the room where Tarok and his wife were, white coat stained with red. "Doctor," you hurried after him. The elderly man pushed up his round glasses and gave you an inquisitive look, though he didn't stop walking, he had patients to tend to. "What happened to Tarok and his wife?"

The doctor let out a long sigh and glanced at the wing emblem on your uniform. You had a feeling that he was only sharing this information with you because you were a scout, as was Tarok, so you were comrades. "I don't know exactly how it happened, but from what I heard, a titan exploded and tore another titan apart. A limb from the other titan was thrown over the wall by the explosion and it exploded inside. The wall itself wasn't significantly damaged, but a house a couple of streets from here was partially destroyed. There were two children upstairs. Their mother, who was downstairs at the time, survived with minor injuries, but the second floor was damaged badly and the children didn't make it. People started leaving their houses after that and heading to the inner edge of Rose."

Your eyes widened in shock. The doctor didn't wait for you to speak. A new batch of injured soldiers was brought in and he went off, following the sounds of pain. You hurried down the seemingly endless halls, though it wasn't really that much of a huge building, it just felt like it was. People weren't safe, you realized, not even inside the walls. That was something that the residents of Maria learned years earlier.

"Excuse me, miss scout." A nurse called out to you. "This way, please," she signaled for you to follow her.

You curiously followed, swallowing the lump in your throat, "what's this way?" You cleared your throat self-consciously when you realized how choked up you were.

The nurse didn't comment on the shaky sound of your voice and instead offered an answer to your question. "Commander Erwin said that all the able bodied scouts that don't already have orders should be prepared for another expedition. The others are over here."

You nodded, at least now you were going where you were supposed to go. "By the way, miss..."

"(Name)," you supplied.

"(Name)," the nurse repeated, as if making a conscious effort to memorize it. You reached the destination she was leading you towards, spotting a few scouts resting in a room with several beds and a table with food. "Have you seen Raphel?" The nurse asked just as she stopped in front of the room.

It was her, his fiance, the memory of when he gave her the roses before going outside flashed before your eyes. You lowered your head, tears threatening to escape, but you took a deep breath and pressed on. "Raphel was the one who initially discovered the exploding titans' weakness to water. He's a hero."

You didn't have to tell her anything more, she understood that he wasn't coming back. Tears began to stream down her face for a few seconds before she bit her lip and managed a small "thank you," then she walked away, off to tend to the injured.

As you entered the room, you felt exhausted in more ways than one. Krista, Armin and two men you didn't know very well were there. you could probably name them if you tried, but you didn't feel like trying. Krista was as quiet and solemn as the two men, none of them speaking or moving, like statues. Armin looked up at you, as you entered and you sat on the bed next to his. He was the only one who acknowledged your arrival. His eyes turned towards the entranceway again as footsteps indicated a new arrival.

Mikasa entered the room and paced around, before sighing and taking up the bed on the other side next to yours. "Who could nap at a time like this," she breathe, speaking to no one in particular.

"How's Eren?" Armin inquired.

"Same as when you went to see him, exhausted, too dizzy to stand, but insisting that he wants to fight," Mikasa informed. "Levi arrived just as the nurses were getting on my last nerve reminding me that all able bodied scouts had to prepare for the next expedition. I don't like it when Levi scolds Eren, he's far too harsh, but at least I know Eren will listen and rest as he should, after Levi gives him an earful. If we're leaving soon, I don't think Eren will be able to come with us."

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Chapter 49: The Calm Before the Storm

Another person entered the room where you and the uninjured scouts were, Tarok silently took up the bed on the opposite end of the room. He laid down and closed his eyes wordlessly, as if hoping everything that happened today would turn out to be a nightmare. Long heavy minutes passed and the food on the table remained untouched. If Sasha had been declared able bodied despite her concussion, it would be entirely gone by now.

You reminded yourself that the scouts that were not present were not all dead. Some were hurt badly, but many only had minor injuries that prevented them from being able to use ODM gear, but they would recover in a few weeks. You waited in silence until Levi appeared at the door. He glanced around, his eyes met yours for a moment, then went to observe each of the other people in the room. Mikasa stood up, ready to solve the enigma and lessen Eren's burden in the war. You and Armin followed and got to your feet, along with the two men, whose names you couldn't recall, and Tarok. Krista snapped to attention, noticing after several silent seconds that Levi was present. She stood and waited for instructions.

"So this is all there is, you'll just have to do," Levi remained at the door, not bothering to fully step into the room.

Someone appeared behind him energetically saluting, "Captain Levi, sir! Sorry I'm late, it took a while for me to convince the doctors I was okay!"

Levi stepped aside, allowing Sasha passage to the room. She spotted the food table, staring at it hungrily. "Is this for us?"

"Take it with you if you want it, we're going back to the base for now. (Name), Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Kyle, Neil, you'll be going on the next expedition. We will likely leave today in the late afternoon," Levi explained.

"Sir, what about me? I can fight," Tarok offered.

Levi took another look at his face and refused, "you will fight, but not today, for now, you can assist in the preparation." Tarok looked like he would protest, but never said a word. He knew Levi could read people very well. Tarok had lost his focus and would be a liability, or an unnecessary casualty. Krista was still waiting to be assigned a task, "you too, Krista."

She nodded and replied with a quiet, "yes, sir."

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Since you were going back to the base to rest anyway, you took a moment to stop by Eren's room. Mikasa and Armin tagged along, though they had seen him recently, Levi was there as well. The others went ahead to the base to begin the preparations, with Sasha running ahead. Eren seemed stuck between being asleep and awake as he nibbled on a muffin, or more like his body was demanding sleep and his mind refused to allow it. He turned his head towards the entrance of the room, greeting everyone with a drowsy, "hey... Is it time for the next mission?"

"Only if you dream about it," Levi replied.

"Rest up, Eren," you reassured. "Leave the rest to us. You've already done so much. I saw you fighting the explosive titans, you really saved the city."

"I don't think I would have lasted much longer if the water weakness wasn't discovered." Eren swallowed the last bite of his muffin and gripped the blanket, his green eyes taking on that all too familiar look of stubborn determination. "I have to become stronger and defeat all the titans!"

"You have to be alive for that," Levi reminded in a tone that seemed to say, 'behave or I'll kick you.'

Eren nodded, "I know... So, you're all going?"

"Yes," Mikasa nodded. "Armin, (Name) and Sasha are all going," she mentioned some of the people Eren was familiar with.

"Oh yeah, Sasha came by a minute ago," Eren recalled. "She gave me a muffin, told me to get well soon, said something about making sure the bacon was ready to eat before the mission and ran off."

You chuckled along with Mikasa and Armin, that was the typical Sasha alright, always thinking of food. "Let's go, we're moving Eren to the base too," Levi informed. You had thought they were going to keep him at the clinic for observation for a while longer, it seemed that Mikasa and Armin had assumed the same thing.

Eren stood up, a wave of dizziness rushing to his head. He stubbornly steadied himself and took little steps towards the group. "Ready," he smiled, an uneasy, sleepy smile.

"Too slow," Levi determined. "Mikasa, carry him," Eren opened his mouth, but before he could protest, Levi continued, "Eren, don't complain, those are orders." Eren nodded and obediently allowed Mikasa to pick him up bridal style, she was all too happy to comply.

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The group returned to the base. You passed by the stables and saw Hange with a few horses, among which you recognized Knight and Cali. "They're here!" You went to pet them, glad that they were safe. "How were they brought in? I didn't think they would open the gates."

"They're good horses and we need them. After the titans were pushed back, we put them on a cargo harness and pulled them over the wall," Hange explained. "Our Fluffy titan tracker is inside. I'll get them all fed and ready to go out again. I can't wait to solve this mystery, so many answers so close!"

You nodded, your determination set, "Right, we'll figure everything out."

Going inside the base, you actually felt reassured. There were a lot of injured people around you, but at least you were able to confirmed that they were alive. The deaths had been slightly less numerous than with the female titan incident, but the injury count had been far higher which resulted in the vast majority of the scouts being left unable to fight for several weeks until they recovered.

You passed in front of Eren's room on the way to yours. Mikasa went in to put Eren on his bed. He had fallen asleep in the way and kept nuzzling her shoulder. She put him down and nearly fell over as his arms had become so firmly locked around her shoulders that he didn't let go, even in slumber. She gently began to pry him off until she managed to set him down and cover him with the blankets. The movements must have been just enough to slightly wake him. His emerald eyes opened slightly for a moment and he mouthed something that you couldn't quite catch. Mikasa seemed to understand though and smiled, blushing. They were so cute together.

You continued on your way with Levi and went up to your room, then just stood there unsure. "So now what?" You asked impatiently.

"Now you rest and recover. It's possible that by the time the current wave of titans is pushed back, it might be the late afternoon or well into the evening. Normally, we would wait until morning, but if another wave of explosive titans comes we don't know when we'll be able to push them back. Eren will likely be out of commission for at least a couple of days and it doesn't look like it'll rain any time soon. If we keep waiting, we may very well dry up the water supplies before the next rainfall at the rate that we're going. It's not just the area near the gate that's under attack now, the whole wall is in danger and the titans keep coming. We can't afford to lose whatever solution may be hidden in that forest," Levi explained. You nodded, but you still didn't know exactly where to start, you were tense and ready for action, unable to unwind. "(Name), relax, save that fight for later, we need everyone at their best," he hugged you. You pressed yourself against him and tried to relax, though the thought of rest felt alien to you.

"It's weird, like I can't not be alert," you mused.

"You've been on an adrenaline high for hours," Levi acknowledged. "But you need to recover now, I don't want you getting hurt if you're not at your best later." He kissed you, drawing you into the familiarity of his taste. "The life of a scout isn't easy, but..."

You mused on that, you saw many things that were not easy to witness, but hiding away from them wouldn't have made them cease to be. "It's the path of freedom," you finished.

"Every mission, is a chance to make every other mission that came before it worth it," Levi held you close as he spoke, his breath tickling your ear. "Now rest, so that you may be at your best." He kissed you again, easing you into a relaxed state that you didn't think you could achieve with all the tension in the city.

You started getting out of the ODM gear belts, it was easy now, but you had been a tangled mess at first. You had still been having a little trouble with the belts when you and Levi had first become a real couple. As part of your training, he insisted that you should be able to get in and out of your ODM gear quickly. You got bored of trying to practice getting yourself in and out of the web of belts, so Levi had let you practice on him. It was much more entertaining that way, and you diligently put on and took off and put on and took off the ODM gear belts until you could do it speedily.

You took a warm shower with Levi, then rested. You didn't think you'd actually fall asleep, but for now, there was nothing else in the world except you and Levi. You closed your eyes, your head resting on his chest, his arms wrapped tightly around you, then surprisingly, you drifted off to sleep.

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"(Name)" You shifted slightly, your eyes closed. "(Name)" There was movement near you and the next thing you knew you were sitting instead of laying down, your pillow seemed set on getting up. "Wake up, (Name)," Levi kissed you, pulling you further away from the grasp of slumber. "It's time to get up, you didn't hear the knock on the door or anything?"

You yawned and shook your head. Apparently someone had been at the door to remind Levi and you that it was time to get up. He got out of bed and started to change into a Survey Corps uniform. You blinked, trying to make yourself wake up and your senses become focused, if only to enjoy the show. The gears in your head must be stuck or something if watching Levi change right in front of you wasn't snapping you awake right away. Then you recalled all that happened and realized why your subconscious wasn't eager to bring your recent memories to light right away. More awake now, you got out of bed and stretched, then began to put on a uniform. you saw that it was still light out, though the sun was noticeably lower in the horizon. "Is it still the same day?"

"It is, the sun will likely be setting by the time we head out, but the Garrison is finally making a breakthrough and we can't afford to waste the opportunity. Too many Garrison soldiers are injured and the Military Police is putting up plenty of resistance to joining the light, only a few of them decided to assist the Garrison. Eren still isn't ready to fight again, if another attack like this happens tomorrow, Rose will be in serious danger. Even if night falls while we're out there, we have to go now, we need to end this," Levi looked determined not to let the titans take over Rose.

You nodded, "right, we'll get to the bottom of this tonight and stop it for good." You had to believe you could or the battle was already lost. You tied your hair into a ponytail, then folded it in half because it was so long. Your hair grew very fast, as if longer hair was a side effect of your healing ability, with your body wanting to replace not only damaged skin but your hair as well. You'd have to cut it soon, or it would get in the way, it already kind of did, since it was knee length. For the time being, you tugged the folded up low ponytail down the back of your jacket underneath the emblem of the wings of freedom.

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Levi and you headed downstairs to the mess hall, where Sasha, as promised, had some generous portions of bacon with a side of mashed potatoes ready for the squad. The mess hall was full, though not everyone was there to get food, some where simply there to see off the squad, since traveling to the gates was not so easy for those that were hurt.

After the meal, you and Levi stayed at the mess hall for a while with everyone until Erwin returned from the wall. According to his calculations, an opening would be possible soon. He rounded up the squad to go to a briefing room. Erwin, Levi, Hange, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Kyle, Neil and you were the only people there.

Erwin began the meeting. "After this meeting is over, we will head to the gates and wait there until the gates can be open. The city appears darker because of the walls, but we may still have some rays of light to work with on the outside. The titans are normally less active at night, but we have learned that what we think we know is not set in stone. Furthermore, it takes titans some time to become less active under normal circumstances after sunset. We will be dealing with the possibility of an attack in the darkness. Our destination is the forest. I expect that it will be dark by then. We have a full moon tonight, but that won't be of much help in the darkness of the forest. This operation will be extremely dangerous, but we cannot afford to fail."

"When we reach the forest, we must stay close to each other and alert to even the smallest sound or hint of movement. We cannot allow the titans to surround us. If a titan attacks in the forest, we must slay it swiftly and retreat before it explodes. The explosion will at least clear away some of the vegetation, making the battle field slightly easier to work with. If we find a small titan, we must protect it from being eaten or killed by the large ones. (Name), it'll be up to you to establish communication with the small titans, we will be returning to the same spot as earlier." Erwin pointed it out on a large map for everyone to see. It was the spot where Artie and Melinda's bodies were, they had to be left there in the rush to save the city.

"We must also be on the lookout for a female titan with long translucent hair. We have reason to suspect that she is human, though she may not be in control of her actions in titan form. Neither the small titans nor the female have been hostile to us directly, but we must still be careful. The small titans transform the large ones into abnormal explosives. If we are fortunate, that fate has not yet befallen the female," that was another reason why the mission couldn't wait. "There is something to be found in that forest, something that the small titan was trying to show us, we need to see what that is, the future of the city, of human kind, depends on it." The meeting continued with a discussion of a few strategies, formations, and theories of what might await.

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After the briefing was done, you, Mikasa and Armin stopped by to see Eren for a minute before the squad went to the stables for the horses, which had already been prepared. You hopped on Knight, no longer needing to have him kneel so you could get on. Fluffy was on the saddle bag of Erwin's horse like before, since he was leading the expedition.

"Who put this here?" Levi pointed at the bouquet of roses tugged into Cali's saddle bag.

"I thought it might be a good idea to bring some fresh roses, I had the thorns removed and everything," Hange replied. "I mean, think about it, the roses were out of place, what if there's some significance to them? We might as well take them just in case."

"I doubt they'll be useful," none the less, Levi left the roses where they were. With everyone on their horses, the squad went to the gates.

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The atmosphere near the gates was heavy. It was all part of the same day, but it felt like a much longer time had passed. Lamps shone from all around and the squad carried some lamps as well, though they were currently off to save oil. The city still felt very dark in the shadow of the walls and you know that it was only darker behind each layer. Several long minutes passed and you were starting to feel impatient, there were explosions in the distance and pipes all around, going up to the wall and beyond. It looked like several small pieces of titans must have been thrown over the wall at some point, as the buildings nearby looked damaged, but the wall had held up with only minor damages.

Dot Pixis came by and exchanged a few words with Erwin, then left. More minutes passed and as the light continued to fade away. Then suddenly, the announcement was given that the gates would be opened. As soon as the gates opened, the Survey Corps squad rode away full speed, careful not to step on the pipes that were extended beyond the wall in an effort to stop the titans further from the gates and make it safe to open them and have the scouts head out.

The sun was suddenly in your face again and you blinked and squinted trying to become accustomed to the light. The difference was disorienting. It was night time in the city, but outside, without the walls to block the light, the days were longer and there was no dark hour in the evening between sunset and the time when the moon and stars would become visible. Beyond the multitude of pipes, the scouts advanced to the Garrison blockade. They Garrison didn't have the casualties of the Survey Corps or the high requirements of the Military Police and a result they were the most numerous branch of the military.

Many Garrison soldiers stood at the blockade and you actually caught sight of a few MPs as well, though only one for every twenty Garrison soldier approximately. You dashed past the blockade that still defended against the exploding titans, draining away the city's water supply to protect its walls. Explosions went off left and right, but the Garrison had established a good defense with the water, so there were no casualties for you to see this time. The scouts continued getting further away from the exploding titans and into a clear expanse of land.

A few abnormals, most likely explosive, ran by, but the group was able to dodge their path in a mad dash for the forest. It came to the point where Fluffy just stopped barking, giving up on directing the crazy humans who insisted on rushing straight into danger. The forest loomed ahead.

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Chapter 50: Into the Darkness

The sky held on to its last few rays of light, but the oranges and purples were replaced by pitch black as soon as you entered the forest. "Lamps on!" Erwin ordered. Everyone turned on their lamps and continued on, speeding through the forest in hopes that the constant movement would make it less likely to get caught in a fight.

Then Fluffy started howling, and shortly after, she appeared, the strange female titan with translucent hair. She dashed towards the forest's edge and sat there, looking towards the horizon as the sunlight dissipated from view. She looked at it in sadness, as if the night brought nothing but sorrow to her.

"After her!" Erwin changed course, with the whole group following after him.

An abnormal titan headed for the group, but the female shouted with an echoing voice like a siren from a fairytale and the titan's face suddenly changed its lost expression, instead looking haunted. The abnormal, then dashed away from the forest, it's eyes losing the focus they had momentarily gained at the sound of the strangely melodious yet haunting voice.

Erwin halted the advance at the edge of the forest. "Let's approach her carefully."

Hange got off her horse and began slowly walking toward the female titan, speaking softly. "Hello there, don't run away this time. Let's be friends."

The titan spotted Hange and the scout froze so as to not startle her. The titan studied Hange, then her eyes moved to the other scouts a few feet behind her. She observed them all, slowly moving back.

"She's going to make a run for it, we'll have to trap her," Erwin voiced quietly and everyone started getting ready to put the plan that was discussed during the briefing into action.

"Wait," Hange called out with urgency, despite not raising the volume of her voice too much. "Look at her, look at her eyes," she stepped back and turned her head to follow the titan's gaze, "the roses."

Levi noticed that the titan was indeed looking at the flowers peeking out of Cali's saddle bag. "There was something to this after all?" He took the bouquet and approached Hange slowly to hand her the flowers.

The titan moved, taking a stepped forward this time, looking at Levi with curiosity. "She's not running away. That's it, come to us, we're your friends." Hange took a step forward and the titan took a step back. "No, no, don't go, its ok, I won't hurt you." The titan didn't entirely seem convinced. "Levi, you go, she seems to like you best."

"Or maybe she just likes the flowers," Levi stepped forward slowly, holding out the bouquet.

"I hope (Name) doesn't get jealous," Hange joked as she stepped back.

The female titan looked at the flowers, her eyes becoming focused on them. She reached out and could see Levi becoming more alert, ready to jump out of the way if she decided to attack. She reached out with her thin hand, her fingers double the length of what they should proportionally be. Levi held the flowers out for her to take, but she instead held out her hand, palm up. "Really? You think I'll just walk into your hand?"

"I think you should," Hange encouraged.

"Fine, but I'm chopping off your freaky fingers if you try to grab me," Levi cautiously stepped onto the titans hand. The night had fully fallen and the light of the full moon and stars only provided short range, limited visibility, the lamps didn't do much to expand the range.

"You heard him, titan, no one's allowed to touch Levi but (Name), so don't get grabby." Hange wouldn't be Hange if she didn't come up with those silly teasing jokes in the middle of all this danger. But honestly, she did kind of have a point, Levi was yours.

The female titan lifted her hand so that Levi was right in front of her face. She examined him as if looking for some hint of familiarity. Then she lowered her hand again and waited for Levi to hop off.

"That was strange," Hange voiced quietly, as if referring to a specific detail, rather than the experience as a whole. "The way she was looking at Levi was as if she was trying to figure out who he was."

The titan took the flowers from Levi and looked at him sadly, backing away in disappointment. Then she wailed loudly, as if in pain, and jumped high over the tree tops with amazing speed, hopping from one tree to another.

"We can't lose her!" Erwin shouted, "horizontal formation, we can't try to communicate again, we need to capture her now!"

Leaving the horses behind for the time being, the scouts rushed through the forest with the speed of their ODM, trying to stay as high as possible not to lose sight of the titan, though that was easier said than done. The scouts were spread out in an horizontal formation, they couldn't travel next to each other with the limited light of the lamps attached to their ODM gear, or they would risk not seeing their allies and accidentally hitting them with the hooks.

The titan sunk beneath the vegetation and the scouts followed, lowering themselves to chase after her. you haven't crashed into this many branches since your days as an ODM gear rookie. You heard a pained grunt from somewhere to your left and a thump, as if someone had hit a thick branch, and fallen to the ground, but you couldn't stop now. Anyone who fell had to get up on their own, it felt cruel, but the scouts simply couldn't jeopardize the future of the city to help one of their own. Levi had told you to trust your comrades to be alright, or you might unintentionally render their efforts in vain, recalling that, you pressed on.

"Does anyone see her?" Erwin called out after a while. You could see a hint of the light of his lamps further away to the left, though they were hardly visible through the flora.

Levi was a bit closer, to your right, but still a few feet away. You looked in every direction, then joined the chorus of voices declaring that they had lost track of the titan.

A tense moment of uncertainty passed and the group was about to head back for the horses, when Sasha suddenly shouted, "a little titan!"

"Don't let it get away!" Erwin moved forward and slightly to the left, mindful not to get in anyone's path, redirecting the formation to position itself to advance towards where Sasha was.

"I got him!" Sasha called out. The other scouts reached her position and regrouped. The squirming little titan calmed down as soon as he saw you, his arms reaching for you like a toddler wanting to be picked up, despite being as tall as a man.

You stepped forward, briefly glancing around to see who was there and who wasn't. Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Kyle, Levi, Hange and Erwin were there. Neil was missing, he was the one who fell earlier. You weren't personally acquainted with him, but you hoped the quiet young man of ginger hair and olive green eyes was alright.

"We lost Ral," Kyle voiced, looking around the group. Kyle was a tall man with platinum hair, light blue eyes and a prominent chin.

"He'll catch up with us," Levi looked towards the darkness of the forest, hoping that he was right.

The surname Ral sounded familiar, then you remembered Petra Ral, who had been in Levi's squad before you met him. You didn't hear anything about her having a brother in the scouts, so perhaps Neil was her cousin. You knew it had been difficult for Levi when his squad was wiped out, though he tried not to show it, to move forward with the scouts that remained. Now another member of the Ral family was in danger of never returning home and you knew Levi would feel responsible for him if he didn't turn up alright.

You woke from your thoughts as the little titan started pulling on your sleeve to show you something. You followed along, taking his hand firmly so he wouldn't run off. He felt reassured and willingly held on to your hand. The scouts followed you, positioning themselves in a circle around you. A suspicious sound was heard, they were footsteps, but they were not the footsteps of Neil catching up with the group, those steps belonged to a creature that was much larger.

"A titan!" Levi and the others maintained their position around you.

For a moment, you considered joining the fight as soon as it was determined where the titan was, but then you recalled the plans discussed during the briefing. You had to play your part and trust your allies to do their part as well. You picked up the surprisingly light human sized titan and took to the trees to keep him safe from the large titan. You wondered if the female had returned, but you doubted it. The little titan didn't seem to care about the large one, so it had probably already been bitten.

The titan came into view, it moved like an abnormal, but it wasn't too big. You moved out of the way with the little titan knowing what would follow. You heard the sounds of battle as you focused on moving forward, then you heard Levi confirmed that the titan was slain and the others began to move away from the it. You knew what was coming, you counted in your head like you were told to during the briefing. Erwin and Levi had spent some time observing the battle from the wall and determining how long it would take for the titan to explode.

You landed and dropped to the ground after the count was done, tackling the little titan down as well. It wouldn't be safe to try to put more distance between yourself and the titan now that it was too close to exploding, so you stayed low and covered your head as previously instructed. You heard more people dropping to the ground nearby and the titan exploded.

Everyone started getting up, mindful of the fact that the small titan could disintegrate any minute. You got up, brushing debris off yourself. Levi must be annoyed with how dirty everyone was already. "Bones!" Armin exclaimed, causing everyone to jump and look at where he was pointing.

Erwin and Hange went to examine them, "human," Hange observed, there were bits of flesh still attached to them and they stank terribly. "Not recent."

Your first thought was to worry that someone just got blown up and you looked at everyone to confirmed they were still there. Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Kyle, Levi, Hange, Erwin... Neil was still missing and your next thought was to fear the bones were his, but then Hange mentioned that about them not being recent. "Oh..." You felt sick. "This was the area where the bodies were." Those who didn't know what you were talking about must have assumed the bodies in question were from scouts that had fallen in action earlier, but Raphel wouldn't have decomposed so much yet, plus he was further ahead, the bodies that were torn apart had belonged to Artie and Melinda.

The little titan didn't seem to understand what was going on and offered no reaction other than tugging at your sleeve impatiently. You felt Levi's hand on your shoulder and steeled your resolve to move on, taking the little titan's hand and allowing him to guide you to whatever he had been trying to show you. The small titan led you towards the river, where more gore awaited, it was the site of Raphel's death.

By the lamplight you could see Armin's face turning a sickly shade of green. Sasha was pouting and rubbing her stomach, as if regretting eating such a large meal before the mission. Mikasa was frowning in concentration, forcing herself to focus on watching out for any dangers that may lurk nearby. Kyle looked disturbed, but relatively focus. Levi looked like he could set the whole forest on fire with his deadly glare. Hange's studious eyes were locked on the little titan, her expression uncharacteristically serious. The lamplight gleaming off her glasses and made her look like a mad scientist from a horror novel. Erwin kept his eyes forward, in the direction the small titan was going, occasionally glancing around and looking back just in case.

The tension could be cut with a knife as you drew ever closer to the possibility of answers upstream, walking next to the river. Then as you climbed over a fallen tree on the river's edge, you yelped, perhaps more so in a startle than real pain, and most of your companions jumped.

"What is it?" Levi asked impatiently.

"I'm so sorry!" Sasha suddenly exclaimed, though the exchange made little sense to everyone else.

"It's alright, it wasn't your fault," you assured her.

"What just happened?" Kyle asked in utter confusion.

"I held on to that big branch on the tree trunk while jumping over it," Sasha pointed at it, "but I ended up grabbing (Name)'s hair too."

"I think it was tangled up in the branch anyway from when I jumped over," you thought aloud. "I didn't even realize it got out from under my jacket." With all the high speed moving around and all the leaves that brushed against your head, it was a miracle the long ponytail didn't get tangled up sooner.

Levi shook his head, "It's just going to get in the way."

You'd feel rather silly if you ended up getting hurt because your hair got tangled up on something and it would be painful if a titan grabbed it. "Yeah, you're right, I should have thought of that earlier. It looks like we're here though."

You untangled the ribbon that was supposed to be holding you hair folded out of the mess of dirty locks, while the little titan stared into the hollow fallen tree. You caught a glimpse of Erwin looking into the tree and glance at Hange for clues. She examined the area, but found nothing at first, yet the little titan seemed adamant on not going any further. Shrugging, Hange crawled into the hallow tree trunk, lamp in hand.

You managed to free one of the ribbons and left the other one in, only pulling it down slightly to leave some room between it and your neck. "Levi, could you cut it off?"

You tugged at the ponytail in indication and Hange popped out of the tree, more dirty and scratched than when she went in, just on time to comment. "Woah, Levi, you better feel honored, (Name) must trust you a lot if she's letting you cut her hair." At least she was her normal self again.

Levi quietly cut your hair with one if his swords. You felt odd, lightheaded without the weight of the ponytail constantly tugging at the back of your head. Levi initially said nothing, but reach over again and cut off a few loose hairs. "That's all that can be done for now." He decided.

"I know, I don't expect it to be perfectly straight." You tied your hair with the ribbon again, in a small ponytail that when just below your shoulders. You dropped the long ponytail on the ground and, since you were so close to the river, the water carried it away. It got stuck on some branches and rocks a little further downstream, but by then your attention was turned away from it and back to Hange and her findings.

Hange held up what appeared to be an ordinary piece of fabric. "This is all I could find in the tree trunk."

You looked at the little titan. He had sat down beside the hollow tree and didn't seem to want to move. He had been so eager to take you to that spot, but now that you were there, he just sat down and didn't do anything.

Kyle shook his head hopelessly, "looks like we're not any closer to the answers after all." None the less, he began to examine the ground and nearby trees for any signs of anything.

"Tony," the little titan looked at you and you wondered if he recognized the word. It was odd to refer to this being by the name that belong to the child that was similar to a younger brother to you. "Is there more that you want to show us?" The small titan stared at you blankly. He seemed confident that you weren't abandoning him and didn't cling to you like the others did, but he made no motion to form any sort of response or signal. "Do you understand me?" He looked at you like a person looking at a bird singing, the meaning was indistinguishable, but the sound was pleasant. "Artie, Melinda, (Name), Anthony." You recited a few names, including your own, trying to get a reaction from the small titan, then sighed in disappointment. "He doesn't understand words, it's just my face that he seems to know, but he doesn't know his own name or mine."

Kyle shook his head, palms raised upward to indicate he had nothing to show after looking around. A moment of silence overtook the scouts. Erwin seemed like he was about to speak, but Armin piped in first, "it's blue." Everyone looked at him as if waiting for elaboration. "I mean, it's light blue, it's not a piece of fabric from our insignia, and besides, it was inside the tree, so it has to belong to someone else. That is, I don't think a scout would crawl into a tree when climbing would be safer."

"Right," Erwin agreed. "Someone left flowers earlier and now we find a piece of fabric. Looks like we'll have to continue our search and do some detective work at the same time."

"I think they're different," Mikasa suggested.

"Different?" Sasha tilted her head in curiosity as to what she meant.

"Yes," Mikasa shared her theory. "The female titan ran away, but the roses had her attention for a while and she took them when she escaped. What if the flowers are a signal of sorts for her?"

"You're onto something," Hange agreed. "She did look at Levi as if trying to figure out who he was."

"She must not be able to fully recognize people right away," Levi mused. "What would have happened if I turned out to be who she was expecting?"

There was no answer to that question yet, but the question itself provided an argument in favor of Mikasa's theory. "There is someone out there who would approach the female titan for some reason, perhaps Fredrick. I see where this is going and I agree," Erwin confirmed.

"Ah, I get it now," Kyle nodded, "if you have the guts to offer a titan flowers, you wouldn't be hiding in a hollow tree."

"Tony..." you whispered softly, a hopeful, perhaps too hopeful, theory forming in your mind. "Is that it?" You asked the little titan, though he didn't understand you. "Were you trying to lead us to the original?" As expected, the creature offered no reply.

To be Continued

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