Chapter 1: The Fall of Shiganshina, Part 1
Author's note: This will be a mostly OC-centric story based on the manga and anime. I'll be using the names from the anime because they're what I'm most familiar with. I own nothing but my OCs.P.S. The type of ballad referenced on the title is meant to be like the heroic songs of old, not a romance ballad (LOL).
On that day, humanity remembered.The dread… that was a life under their rule…The humiliation… of being caged like birds…
845 Inside the Wall of Maria
White clouds reflected in the blue eyes of a ten-year-old girl with bright red hair as she gazed up at the equally blue sky above while the flock of white geese she was herding grazed in the grass and engaged in quiet conversation in the back ground.
"Ah." She breathed softly when a flock of wild geese entered her field of vision. She knew from watching the birds in the sky that the vast body of blue above them must extend well beyond the wall. She wondered what else was out there and why her geese never tried to take to the sky. Beyond the occasional flapping, they never seemed to use their wings. Didn't they want to fly too? It seemed like such a waste. If she had been born with wings, she would definitely use them…
Her daydreaming was interrupted when she felt a gentle tug on one of her braided pigtails. She glanced down and saw that her younger cousin was holding onto it.
"What are you doing, Jacob?" She asked curiously.
"Ah!" The six-year-old gasped upon realizing he had been caught, quickly letting go. "Sorry, Heidi… It's just, your hair is so red… I thought it would be hot…" He explained, feeling a little embarrassed. The way it shined in the sun reminded him of the glow of a burning ember. "It's so pretty that before I knew what I was doing… I touched it." Heidi stared at him for a moment in astonishment before pulling him into a hug, smiling happily.
"That's okay, you can touch it as many times as you want!" She told him. This was why she loved her little cousin. Everyone teased her about her abnormally bright red hair. He was the only one who ever complimented it. She liked her red hair because she had inherited it from her father. Her mother didn't like to talk about him, so she didn't know how he had died, but Heidi knew her mother loved him, because she would catch her staring longingly at his picture when she thought no one was looking. "Come on." Heidi said as she helped Jacob to his feet and brushed him off while he leaned on his crutch. "It's about time we headed back." She grabbed her crook and gathered up the geese to bring them home.
The stubborn birds weren't too thrilled to leave the shade of the tree they had been resting under, but they eventually complied after several honks of protest and one or two escape attempts. As they herded the geese down the road and over the bridge, approaching the gate between the main part of the Wall of Maria and the loop around Shiganshina, they heard some familiar voices. Apparently, her uncle's group was guarding the gate today. Heidi deadpanned when she saw what they were up to. Not only were they drinking while on duty, but they were gambling too.
"Well, Karl? Are you going to fold or not?" One of the other guards asked her uncle challengingly.
"I think I'll…" Karl Stark started with a smirk, but his expression fell when he noticed the extremely unimpressed looks his niece and son were giving him. "Oh! Heidi, Jacob… What are you two doing here?" He asked, quickly hiding his hand behind his back, as if that could save him.
"Working. Shouldn't you be doing the same?" Heidi answered bluntly, causing him to twitch guiltily. "You're a soldier, but you're so unprepared. A real emergency isn't going to wait for you to be ready before it happens. And you know Auntie hates it when you come home smelling like alcohol. If she finds out you're gambling again after losing one of our best geese in a bet the other day…"
"Ah! Alright, Alright!" Karl said quickly, throwing down his hand. "There, I quit! And I'll start drinking water! Just don't tell Lana or your mother, okay?" He pleaded with a nervous smile. His wife and sister-in-law could be really scary when they were angry.
"Haha!" One of the other soldiers laughed. "First Hannes gets scolded, now you? I can't believe you guys are taking these kids so seriously! Don't tell me you're scared of your wife? If she starts nagging you, just tell her to be quiet and make you a sandwich. A woman's place is in the kitchen."
"Right, I'll be sure to tell your wife you said that." Karl deadpanned, knowing full well his wife wasn't the type to sit back and take that kind of crap either.
"!" The rude soldier flinched in alarm, earning a laugh from the others.
"You guys are totally whipped." One of the other men commented with a smirk.
"Anyway… I won't rat you out as long as you behave yourself from now on." Heidi told her uncle, giving some of the geese a little nudge to get them moving again. "Come on, Jacob. Let's stop by the well and water the geese on our way home."
"Kids these days…" Hannes said as they watched they watched the children leave, shaking his head.
"Yeah, even my six-year-old son was giving me a look… As an adult, I feel kind of sad." Karl added with a heavy sigh, dumping out the beer in his cup. They used to be so cute, following him around and reacting to everything he said as if it were gospel… Why did they have to grow up so fast?
"Oh, the Survey Corps must have returned!" Heidi remarked when they heard the ringing of the town bell. "We should move off of the main road, or we'll be in their way. Do you want to see them?" She asked Jacob as she guided the geese into a side alley. The adults who had gathered to watch the Survey Corps' return moved aside to let them through in order to avoid getting nipped by the geese.
"But won't you get in trouble?" He asked. For some reason, his aunt Lena didn't like it when Heidi watched the Survey Corps, even though she was fine with them hanging around members of the Garrison, like his father.
"Hmm... That's true." Heidi mused thoughtfully, debating whether or not it was worth the risk, when a commotion started further down the road.
"Moses! Moses!" An old woman cried out. The two children leaned out to get a better view as the company of tired and wounded soldiers halted.
"!" Heidi gasped and her eyes widened when she saw the terrible state they were in. There were so few of them left…
"Heidi, where are the rest of them?" Jacob asked innocently. Heidi knew the missing were all probably dead or eaten, but she didn't want to tell him that. Instead, she held his free hand in hers and gave it a little squeeze.
"Excuse me, I don't see my son Moses anywhere…" The old woman continued hesitantly, praying her worst fears hadn't come true. "Do you know where he is?" She asked the commander, Keith Shadis, grabbing on to his green cloak. The commander and his men looked disturbed by her question.
"This is Moses' mother… Go get it." Shadis quietly ordered the soldier next to him. With a heavy heart, the soldier did as he was ordered and went to retrieve a small bundle from the wagon. He handed it to his superior, and Commander Shadis placed the bundle in the old woman's arms.
"… Uh?" The old woman gasped, going pale at the sight of the blood on the rag it was wrapped in. She looked between the bundle and her arms and the grim-faced soldiers standing before her. She didn't understand… She didn't want to understand… But she had to know. She began unwrapping the bundle to see what it contained with her own eyes. And then, she froze.
"!" Heidi's eyes widened in shock as she realized what she was holding. Disturbed, Heidi quickly covered Jacob's eyes, hoping he hadn't seen it. Tears formed in the old woman's eyes as she stared down at the severed hand that used to belong to her son. The old woman quickly covered it again and clutched it close to her chest, trembling.
"That's it. That's all we were able to recover." Shadis explained with regret.
"…Uhh… Waaaaaah! Waaaaaah!!" Moses' mother screamed, wailing like a banshee, as she sunk to her knees in grief. Commander Shadis kneeled down in front of her, as if he wanted to comfort her but didn't know what to say. Jacob tightened his grip on Heidi's hand as she held him. It was heartbreaking to watch. "But… my son…" Moses' mother sobbed. "My son… My son has been useful, hasn't he…?"
"…!!" Shadis gasped, looking unsettled as a bead of sweat slid down the side of his face.
"It doesn't have to be anything outstanding!!" She yelled desperately. "He contributed! His death contributed towards humanity's retaliation, yes!!?" All of the blood seemed to drain from Shadis' face and the faces of all the soldiers behind them. Almost every member of the Survey Corps had the same mortified looks in their eyes.
"Of course…!" Shadis began to respond, but then his voice caught in his throat. Something seemed to break inside of him. "… No…" He said quietly. "On this latest scouting mission… this time again… we…!!" The commander grit his teeth in frustration. "It was all for naught! We didn't make any progress at all!" He confessed remorsefully, stunning everyone as Moses' mother stared at him in shock. "My incompetence has done nothing but needlessly send soldiers to their deaths…!! We couldn't find out ANYTHING about them!!"
"…" The children stared in shock as the adults began to whisper amongst themselves. Heidi furrowed her brow and spared one last glance at the defeated soldiers before turning away.
"Let's go, Jacob." She said quietly, leading him by the hand as she herded the geese through the alley. The two children walked in silence. Even the geese were unusually quiet.
"… Heidi… If it's so dangerous, why do people still go outside?" Jacob asked eventually as they came to the public well that was on their way to the house. "Wouldn't it be better if we all stayed inside, where it's safe?" Heidi paused for a moment as she reached out to lift the lid.
"Maybe…" She said, uncovering the well so she could lower the bucket. "I've heard a lot of adults say the soldiers in the Survey Corps are all a bunch of idiots, but… did you know, Jacob, that bunch of idiots is also called 'the hope of mankind'. They represent those of us who haven't given up. These walls might be a fortress built for our protection, but I think they're also a cage." Heidi added as she watched the bucket sink into the deep darkness of the well. "No one's allowed to leave, and showing interest in the outside world is taboo. We're like a bunch of birds who've had their wings clipped." She felt a pull against the crank as the rope became taught from the weight of the full bucket and began reeling it back up. "But not them. The soldiers in the Survey Corps are the only ones allowed to see the outside world… that means they got to see something no else has. They wear 'the wings of freedom'. Don't you think that's kind of cool?" She asked her cousin as she held the bucket of freshly drawn water and turned to face him with a smile. The sunlight sparkled on the surface of the water and reflected in her blue eyes, giving them a magical glow. In that moment, Jacob could see that Heidi felt like she might be an 'idiot' too. She looked like she could fly away at any moment. A sudden feeling of anxiety flooded him, and he threw himself at her.
"Jacob!" Heidi exclaimed in surprise, dropping the bucket, as her threw his arms around her. It hit the ground with a clatter and splashed the geese, much to their delight. "What's wrong?" She asked, concerned when she saw the look on his face. He looked like he was about to cry.
"Please don't leave, Heidi!" Jacob pleaded anxiously, sniffing, as he buried his head in her skirt.
"Huh? What are you talking about?" Heidi asked, taken aback. "D-Don't worry!" She sputtered when she felt her skirt starting to get damp from his tears, hugging him back. "I'm not going anywhere, Jacob. I won't leave you alone."
"Hey, look! It's the goose girl with the red hair!" An all too familiar voice called out, interrupting their moment. Heidi frowned in annoyance as she looked up and saw that Peter and his lackeys sauntered over with plenty of attitude. "Look at that red hair. What do you have to eat to get hair that red? I bet it got like that because you eat a lot of tomatoes! That must be why you have a head like a tomato!" He taunted her with an obnoxious grin on his face, earning a laugh from his equally obnoxious friends.
"Tomato-head! Tomato-head!" The other three boys chanted mockingly, parroting their leader.
"Come on, Jacob." Heidi said calmly, taking him by the hand to lead him away as she grabbed her crook, preparing to leave.
"Eh?" Jacob said, furrowing his brow slightly. "But they…"
"Just ignore them." Heidi said firmly as they continued their annoying chant. Couldn't they at least come up with something new? 'Tomato-head' was getting really old. "They're not worth getting in trouble. Besides, we need to get home. The sun's starting to set."
"That's right, run along home, losers!" Peter called after them with a smirk.
"Oh, that's right, Jacob can't run because he's a useless cripple!" One of his followers added. Heidi stopped in her tracks. Peter and the other two boys paled. That idiot…!!
"Y-You id—!!" Peter started to yell, but it was too late. Heidi was already charging at them. By bringing Jacob into it, he had sealed their fate.
"I'll make you a cripple, you useless jerk!!" She shouted angrily as she used her crook to yank their feet out from under them to knock them on their backs and keep them from running away while she taught them a lesson.
"W-Wait!! I thought you said they weren't worth it!?" Jacob reminded her. It was really rare to see his kind and gentle cousin lose her temple like that. Heidi stopped, mid swing. Peter and his little gang looked like they were about to wet themselves. The geese had started to make a fuss.
"… They aren't." She said, glaring down at them, as she tightened her grip on the crook. "But standing up for you is." She finished resolutely, about to follow through with her attack, when the ground suddenly shook beneath them.
"!!?" All of the children cried out in alarm.
"What was that!?" Jacob asked, leaning against his crutch to steady himself. He had almost been knocked off of his feet! The geese honked and shrieked as they flapped their wings, clearly frightened by whatever it was.
"Was that an earthquake!?" Peter shouted. "Hey, Heidi!"
"The people over there…" Heidi said, pointing down the side road to some people standing on the main road to the gate. "… Are all staring at the sky."
"Huh? The Sky…?" Peter asked skeptically, furrowing his brow, as they all looked up in the same direction. Their eyes widened in shock and horror when they spotted it; the giant, red hand gripping the top of the wall. "It can't be…!!" He yelled in disbelief.
'That… That wall is fifty meters high!!' Heidi thought. "I-It's… one of them…" She said aloud, stunned, as a giant, skinless head raised itself out of the clouds of steam billowing up from behind the wall. "… a titan."