The World is Cruel, But Also Very Beautifu
Eren awoke late in the morning.
He groaned at the harsh sunlight, coughing, his throat dry. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes fitfully.
"Here…" a voice said caringly. "Eren, here."
When Eren opened his eyes he saw Armin, cup of water and slice of dark bread in hand. He took both eagerly with a thankful nod. He downed the water immediately, stuffing the bread in his mouth soon after.
"Thank you." He told the star. Armin smiled, mostly at his kindness, but also at the crumbs on the boy's face. He brushed them off with a flick of his thumb.
Eren felt the electric bubbling of the star's skin. Eren's heart began to hammer and blood whirl, the infatuation thick within him. He held his breath as his face flared heat. Armin finished his preening, ignorant of the boy's torment.
Mindful, Eren was aware of the weariness of the star's poise and appearance. He moved lethargically, eyelids blue and bruised. His head fell against the tree trunk lamely.
"Armin, were you awake all night and all morning?" Eren asked in all seriousness. "You look terrible."
"Stars are supposed to be up all night." The star replied matter-of-factly. "I am fine, I assure you."
Eren saw through the weak lie. His brows furrowed and he took the star's hand, making Armin repress a gasp. His cheeks only reddened.
"You need to sleep." Eren stated the oblivious. "Even if you are a star you need to rest. Staying awake for over half a day is hard for anyone."
Armin turned his head away. He seemed to think about Eren's words, lips pursed, cheekbones still rosy. He swallowed nervously.
"Okay…" He said finally. "But what about you, what about your sister? What about-"
"I will bring Mikasa later." Eren assured him. "It is Market Day, May Day. She can come through the gap in the wall at high noon."
Armin took that as comfort. He nestled down against the roots of the tree and was asleep almost instantly, breaths light and soft. Eren admired his form for a moment. His waft locks were slightly mussed, eyelashes flush on his skin, pale as starlight. His lips were parted and he breathed tiny, precious puffs of air. It was only when he was in the process of doing it that Eren realized he was leaning in to kiss those lips, but stopped himself, backing away and shaking his head. He stood with his hand against the mulberry.
"You will watch him, won't you?" Eren asked the tree, and the tree waved its stagnant leaves, promising. He left the star under its protection.
The market was a bustle of activity. People rushed about making final preparations, goods for selling were set out and organized, the noise growing with excitement. Eren was not concerned with such things. He navigated through the chocked meadow, finding his way to the wall of stones. He found the parapet when he left the business of the crowd. It stood as straight and still as when he left it.
Eren saw the two guards on the other side. Their backs were to him, attention elsewhere, their job to keep people from going in, not coming out. Eren could begin to see Wall as he closed in on the gap. He could also smell the scent of the town on the wind: the water on the Cöln River, the cookery at The Carriage, the freshly tilled earth of farms. He sped his pace towards the threshold of Wall. Eren only recognized the tenants of the guard post when he was much closer.
"Father!" Eren cried, causing Grisha to jump out of his skin. He was not angry, however, and looked behind him in disbelief.
"Eren?" He questioned, the last syllable cracking. "Eren… You came back."
Darius Zackly puffed away on his pipe as the father and son embraced, a smile quirking his lips. Eren asked how Mikasa was fairing and Grisha replied that she was as well as she could have been with her favorite person gone into the world of Faerie. They talked about the matters that had happened while Eren was away, which was not much, for little changes in Wall. When Grisha asked whether he may walk Eren home Darius nodded, agreeing to cover for him in his absence.
Darius breathed out a lung-full of smoke as they left. "Never would I have thought to see the same boy cross over from the Other Side of the wall twice…" He shook his head, grinning.
"I suppose you must have seen many strange things during your travels." Grisha said to Eren when they were away from the wall.
"… I suppose I have, yes."
"It does my heart good to see you made it back safe."
That filled Eren with a warmness. He had forgotten how caring his father could be, the man shielding his heart and becoming cold after the death of his wife. Eren had felt unloved and unneeded for the longest time, but now he saw that it was not so, that Grisha's love for him remained.
"Father…" Eren said, raising a question about the subject Darius had spoke of. "What did Mister Zackly mean by what he said?"
Grisha's face became very grim. It was then his age showed, his graying hair bright and patches of wrinkles deep. He was quiet for some moments.
"I suppose it is high-time you knew…" Was how he began the story, telling Eren of the matters of his birth. He did not know everything, of course, knowing only the boy's mother, not his father, with her golden hair and catty charm. Eren did not feel betrayed as he was told the truth, only wonderment, the star who pointed out all his Faerie traits correct with his observations. As he always was.
Eren felt pleasant nostalgia as they reached the home of his childhood. Everything was the same, storefront and stairs and second floor and all. Grisha said Mikasa would be inside, so he knocked, politely.
"Hello?" Her fluty voice asked from behind the door some distance away.
"Mikasa…" Eren trailed off as he spoke, suddenly very nervous, awkward. The world was tranquil for many moments.
"… Eren?" Mikasa said. Her presence was nearer the door, tone stiff to keep from crying. "Eren, is that you?"
Eren creaked the door open ever so slightly. He saw her standing there, eyes wet, stance queenly as ever. Her lips trembled.
"Yes." Eren said, swinging the door to its full breadth. "Yes, Mikasa. I have finally come home."
They came together then, fiercely. Mikasa sobbed softly and dryly with tiny, sparse tears, her face burrowed into her brother's shoulder. Even though she wept she looked up at him with a brilliant smile. She lifted her fingers, fussing with his wild hair, short laughs bubbling from within her.
"Eren, you are in bad need of a barber."
Armin did not fall asleep promptly. He took some time getting to sleep, took some time to wind down. He was aware that Eren lingered for a while, and that as he stood he asked something of someone. The star lifted an eyelid as the boy left, watching him go. It put him at ease to know he took his satchel with him.
The star slept eventually. He was not exhausted, but could use rest. He slept lightly and pleasantly in the background of the market. The tree above him moved with the breezes.
Armin was roused by the tree. He awoke fearful, the tree trembling in the trunk. Not trembling as if with the wind, but as if with the tremors of an earthquake. The star sat up in panic.
Two woman stood before him. The woman closest to him had her arms thrown wide, blocking the other. Leaves and twigs and small white-yellow berries protruded from her dark hair. She was shivering, much like the tree, terror clear with her composure. The woman before the other had a hood of thick green material over her face, her long gown crumpled around her. Armin's heart seized as he recognized the crystal-blue dress.
A hand reached from inside the cloak, the fingers and palm red and white from lack of skin.
"It would be wise to move, little Morus tree nymph." she said coolly.
The shivering woman stiffened up. She shook her head, arms faithfully outstretched to halt the necromancer.
"I made a promise to protect him!" the nymph said, her voice high with distress. "So protect him I will. I, Isle, must stay true to my word!"
The lady necromancer sighed with dismay. "Very well."
A column of light shot from the extended hand and hit the tree nymph. Her mouth opened to shriek, but no sound came, her body bursting into dust. The tree suddenly lost all its leaves, falling dry and dead. The bark popped and split from the trunk, the insides grey and lifeless. The tree stood dead as it had stood alive.
The star thought it would be smart to run away. He made to stand, only to find his legs heavy as stone. He opened his mouth to scream but he could not, vocal cords stilled silent. His arms remained limp at his sides.
"We cannot have you making a ruckus, now can we?" Annie mused, walking towards the star unhindered. If anyone at the market saw what happened they did nothing, going about their business. Armin had a dreadful feeling none did in all their activity.
The lady necromancer knelt in front of the star, looking into his eyes wide with horror. Armin saw her face was nearly completely skinless, the only area left covered below her eyes, and even that was beginning to crack and flake away.
"You are a silly boy, thinking giving your heart away can keep me from taking it." She said, lifting the star onto her shoulder like a sack of grain. "At least now the boy cannot break it. They always do."
She carried the star on her shoulder to the outskirts of the market. Her carriage awaited her, the horses restless and unhappy at her arrival. The door creaked opened and she placed Armin onto one of the seats, his arm tucked under his left side uncomfortably.
"Your heart will be put to good use now, little star!" She said, laughing a strange and evil laugh. The carriage door slammed shut and the star was alone. He felt the coach lurch as Annie whipped the reigns, the horses moving at a gallop. A tear dribbled down his cheek, splashing onto the seat unseen.
Even though Petra and Levi had just reunited, they both knew they had a responsibility. They knew they must finish the affair of killing the lady necromancer, that they must avenge Erwin's death. Levi explained all of this matter quickly to Petra.
Petra also explained issues concerning her, paraphrasing. Most importantly, and most briefly, she explained what happened to their son. She became emotional as she told the story, tears clogging her throat. Levi became very quiet afterwards, thinking. He finally said that if it was the decision she regretted the least, then it was the right decision, that she could not have known the consequences until after she made her choice.
They began their hunt for the necromancer separately. They asked around and kept alert, inquiring about a woman in a blue dress and green cloak. Petra finally got a lead when she asked a man in a silk top hat. He told of how he saw such a woman carrying a boy along a short time ago, his mustache twitching and bronze eyes keen. When he told of her path and direction, Petra thanked him and took off, leaving him to watch her go. She did not see the smile upon his lips.
Petra practically ran, fearing that the woman was leaving the market. She passed the area where the flower stall was only to see it was gone, caravan and all. She paid little mind to it.
When she reached the outer edge of the market she saw a black coach of oak wood. Black stallions with mistreated feathers stood before it. She recalled it immediately as one of the coach's of Phoenixwing, the dark horses like that of her brother's. She could not perceive it closer, however, a woman from another section of the market appearing and walking up to it.
Petra made work putting herself behind the nearest tree. The horses became agitated as the woman in the green cloak approached. To Petra's horror, she noticed that the lady necromancer had the star with her, a look of frozen petrification lucid on his face. She opened the door and packed Armin inside, sneering and gloating.
"Your heart will be put to good use now, little star!" She said, laughing a triumphant and cold laugh. She shut the door and mounted the carriage, bidding the horses to move at a gallop. Petra watched all of this with revulsion, her stomach clenching with the horror. She covered her mouth and held onto the tree for support.
She began to sprint. Levi was the one person she could find in her mind's-eye, his heart and being like a dark, timeless fire. Petra dodged all the market folk, tripping over no one, the place where she needed to be clear.
She found him beneath the mulberry tree. It was with sick humor that he was there inspecting the leaves. The tree was dead now, the leaves dry and fallen. He had heard the wind speak of the tree and nymph's demise and went to investigate. Petra saw him crouched over, eyeing the leaves critically.
"Levi!" She said, speaking labored. The man stood then to meet her.
"Have you found her?" He asked, Petra gripping his shoulders to steady herself.
Petra bobbed her head violently. She looked up into his eyes and he saw they were full of sorrow and terrible, terrible panic. She spoke much the same way.
"Yes! She, she has the star! The necromancer has the star!"
Eren spent most of his time at home telling of his adventures. He told Mikasa of his heroic work in the serewood and at the wicked woman's inn, of his days upon the airship, and most of all, of the star. Eren knew Mikasa would love Armin because he did, although, hopefully, not in the same way. Mikasa was mainly happy about getting her brother back, not about getting her star.
They set off for the market around noon. The people they met along the way hardly recognized Eren, blaming it on his long absence and long hair. Their father stood by Mister Zackly beside the gap in the wall. Roderick Reiss waited alone, his daughter not with him to open the market.
"Historia has been missing for a few days now," Mikasa whispered, leaning towards her brother. "And Ymir has as well. Most think they ran off to get married. It has put Historia's father and Virgil Zackly in quite fowl moods."
The clock rang noon. Eren took Mikasa's hand and hurried her along right behind Rod Reiss, crossing the threshold without a second thought.
"You are going to love him, Mikasa!" Eren said for perhaps the third time that day. "He is wonderful, I promise!" Mikasa nodded once. She did not believe or disbelieve that the star was a boy and not a jewel sky-fallen. If the star made her brother so joyful she wanted him to be alive, not only something for herself.
When Mikasa and Eren reached the tree where Armin was left he was not there. Instead there was a dead mulberry with dead leaves and two people, one holding onto the other. The one who was a woman looked up to the other, in apparent distress. When she spoke she told terrible news.
"Yes! She, she has the star! The necromancer has the star!"
Eren felt his heart fall, landing on the ground like a dying bird. He tried to cover his wound with his hands, squeezing at his bleeding chest. Mikasa grabbed him as his legs began to buckle, saying his name urgently, although he paid her no mind. He stared intently at the two people.
"Eren's star?" The man asked in palpable surprise.
"Yes, Eren's star." The woman said with less heaving and a more even tone. "We must go after him! She means to cut his heart out! I cannot locate him or the necromancer, so I thought maybe, if you listened, we could find him before… Oh, Levi, we have to, his heart is no longer his own!"
Eren suddenly became very angry. His weakness vanished to be replaced by burning determination. He was angry at the audacity of the people to talk about Armin like they cared about him as much as he did, angry at the one who wanted to cut his heart out, and most of all angry at himself for not protecting the star like he should have.
"Eren!" Mikasa called after him as he shook free of her, rushing towards the pair below the tree. They had spaced apart and were talking in low tones, forming some sort of plan. Eren paid no attention to this. He grabbed the woman by the front of her shirt and lifted her from the ground, causing her to gasp with the abruptness.
"What do you mean the necromancer has taken Armin?" He demanded much louder than he should have. He was not answered before a swift and painful blunt object smacked him in the face. He dropped the woman as he was knocked back, Mikasa there to catch him as he fell.
"Eren! Are you alright?"
Eren heard both exclamations in unison. He tasted iron as his nose bled profusely, his head dizzy with the impact. Mikasa held him on his feet. She shot the short man who had kicked her beloved brother in the face a venomous glare. He cared not for her, paying attention to his furious wife, the woman's copper eyes burning with fire.
"Levi, that is Eren!" She said with complete unhappiness. The man was taken aback, looking at the boy he had injured with his swinging kick. Eren had come back from the hard impact, standing on his own. His nose had healed quickly and now only the blood remained. He wiped it away, eyes afire with hatred.
"Where is Armin? Tell me where he is!" He commanded, bitter and blind with his haste and anger.
"Eren, calm down." Mikasa advised sternly. "You will not find him by grappling people and ordering things of them."
Petra felt only remorse for him. She saw as he tried so hard to quell his desperation, his inability to. She could sympathize with him, relate to his pain, feeling it many times. She took a step forward.
"Eren…" She said softly. "The star- Armin- was taken by a necromancer. She plans to cut out his heart for herself. We must find the star quickly, we must-"
"I know where he is." Eren said frankly.
Petra blinked at the unexpected. "You do?"
"Yes," Eren said, pointing. "He is heading that way. He is going northeast."
"Eren… You can feel his heart."
"If that tells me where he is, then yes."
"Take my horse, then," Levi said. "You will be able to find him much faster than us, and time is of the essence." He began to walk without checking that Eren followed. "Come, this way."
Eren dashed to meet his pace. He was quick to notice that Mikasa followed and the woman did as well, his sister brisk in pace.
"I am coming with you." She said curtly.
"No you are not." Eren said with authority. "It is dangerous."
"If it is dangerous, you should not be able to go either." She stated, her dominance as an older sister coming out.
"But the star-"
"Since you got the star for me, he is my responsibly as well."
Eren knew he could not win. Mikasa made her own rules, her own way, and he had no power over her. She also mounted the horse first, giving Eren the choice of riding with her or forcing her off. He did not have the will or strength to do the latter. He sat before her and she held onto him, her grip sound. Eren urged the steed and the horse jetted forward along the trail of the star and necromancer, dust in his wake. Levi and Petra watched them go.
"They sell horses at the market, correct?"
"They do. Guaranteed to be the quickest you've ever seen."
Armin could feel the light of his heart sinking inwards, forming into a cold, dead pearl of something that once was. A certain fear did this to him, not unlike the fear he had experienced falling from the sky or at the mountain inn or upon the clouds, not unlike a certain fear the woman had given him before with her intent to kill. He was afraid he was going to die: a fear he never thought he would have.
The star was not only overcome by this terrible reality, but also the gravity that the situation was coming. The anxiety of having his heart ripped out as his death bringer was an even greater fear, the fear of knowing how and when he was going to die, and that it would be painful beyond belief. These emotions welled and he could not even scream or cry.
The carriage wheels squealed to a stop. A fresh flurry of panic was born as the doorway eased open, Annie sticking her head inside to inspect the star.
"Easy now," she said with sugar, lifting Armin over her shoulder once again. "We do not want you broken just yet."
Armin saw they were surrounded by woodland. In a forest in the middle of Faerie he was going to die, alone, without anyone hearing him scream or finding his body. Even Eren would be left clueless, finding the tree abandoned and dead, never to know what became of him. He probably thought he had run away, broken his oath. Eren probably thought he hated him.
The cottage he was carried into was dark and smoky. His throat burned with the inability to cough, eyes irritated the same. Two people shadowed over him.
"It is a very small star…" One said, voice shaky. "A pitiful thing…"
"Do not feel sorry for it, Bertholdt." The other said firmly. "Otherwise we will not be able to remove its heart."
'It'. 'Thing'. Armin realized he was not even a person to these people. He was an object for them to use to their fancy and only that. Whether it was out of cruelty or necessity he did not care. He became angry. His fear dissipated.
He was then thrown onto a stone table and strapped down in leather. Armin could see the necromancer's now, the woman in much shabbier condition than her companions. Her right cheek was totally bare, leaving only the left side to waste away.
"Annie," the tallest one said urgently. "You must end your spell before your muscles begin to go as well. Please."
"You know you will lose movement when that happens."
She raised her hand and flicked her wrist. Armin gasped when he was free of his chains, jolting against the leather straps. He squirmed within their hold.
"Ready the knives," Annie said, producing the articles from her cloak. "We shall have a new heart tonight."
"Wait!" Armin begged, unacknowledged as the male necromancer's moved to collect the whetstones. They ran them along the blades unaffected.
Only the lady necromancer stood before him. He stared at her, meeting her eyes briefly before she flicked them away, ignoring him utterly. That was enough.
"If you do this…" The star began lowly. "If you go ahead and do this, if you cut out my heart, you will be a bad person. You will be a bad person to me… Annie."
She looked back at that. Her blue iris's were steady upon his, cool and placid. She then closed her eyes, shaking her head.
"Oh, little star," she said. "Of course I will be a bad person to you. I cannot be a good person to everyone. If I am a good person to you, then I am a bad person to Bertholdt and Reiner who need your heart to continue living as they are. We take, for that is what necromancer's do. Your goodness is only measured by the value you hold to a single person."
The star made to reply, "But-"
"Annie," another voice brushed him off. "They're ready."
"No, Annie!" Armin cried as the panic flooded back to him. "W-We can still reason with each other! Talk to me, Annie!"
"It is too late for that for that now." She said. The cleaver was raised over her head. "I am sorry I could not be a good person to you, but… I have made my decision and I am not going to change it."
The horse moved swiftly even though he carried two passengers. Eren felt the star was close when Armin stopped moving, nearby a cottage-house and forest. Eren could also feel the fear within the star making his glowing spirit fade. This only drove the boy on.
Mikasa was silent throughout the ride. She rode sideways and held her brother stiffly, protectively. Her breathing was hushed.
Eren jumped off the horse when they reached the cottage. He would have run inside if Mikasa had not stopped him, her hold on his arm deadly.
"Eren" she hissed. "You cannot just barge in there. We need a plan."
"Mikasa, they are going to kill him." He said with effort put into lowering his voice.
"Let's go to the window and see what we can."
The siblings crept soundlessly towards the cottage. The glass of the windows was foggy with age and the room blurred with smoke, making Eren strain to see. He found a small clear patch in the glass and watched the proceedings inside.
The star was pinned to a stone altar. The woman from the inn stood over him, two other people farther away and doing something with glittering objects. He gave them no mind. His spine prickled when he saw Armin. The woman appeared to be speaking with him, her now skinless lips moving to form words he could not hear.
"Do we have any weapons?" Mikasa asked in a whisper.
"Only this…" Eren said while retrieving the knife from his satchel.
Mikasa shook her head. "Eren, anything can be used as a weapon."
She made her point by uprooting the metal bird perch beside the doorway. Eren looked back into the window and, to his absolute horror, saw a knife raised, ready to hack down onto his star. Armin began to scream and he could hear it through the walls of the building and into his very being. Without thinking, without asking his sister, he reacted by flinging the front door open, exposing the insides to sunlight and air. The occupants froze.
"Stop!" Eren ordered savagely, shouting to reinforce his words. His knife was drawn as a fierce challenge. "Get away from him! Get away from Armin right now!"
"Eren!" The star cried. He then hiccupped, trying to raise himself to see. His eyes grew wet. "Eren… Eren, you came for me…"
"Oh, it is you, the little pest." Annie said while she lowered her knife. "Fateful as ever, I see. And you brought a friend along as well."
Fearless, Mikasa stood beside her brother, the pointed tip of her pole ready to spear the next unfortunate soul who crossed her. Her dark eyes were bright with hatred, her entire face communicating the dark desire to cause bodily harm. She did not flinch.
Annie raised a finger. "Kill them."
The girl dove, narrowly missing the bolt of energy sent to kill her. She rolled and hit the wall, stunned, but able to stand out of instinct. The souls in the mirror inched closer to the outside world as one of their own disappeared. They watched as Reiner growled at his poor aim, the skin on his hands crumbling.
Eren found shelter behind an oak cabinet. Mikasa, however, had very little furnishings where she landed, leaving her exposed. She had only the pole to defend herself.
"Mikasa, get down!"
She dropped to her stomach as another bout of magic flew into the wall, frying the area.
"Oh, would you shut up!"
Eren pressed against the shelves as he was targeted. The attack struck the cabinet and damaged it immensely, splintering the wood and collapsing the other side. Eren heaved a shallow sigh of relief.
The distraction gave Mikasa time to close in. She skirted along the wall, finding a chest to protect herself. Her breaths were labored, heart rate doubled, limbs trembling and waiting for the next action. She peeked over the trunk.
She saw a great glass urn floating towards her, led by more articulate hands. She reacted accordingly and rushed out of its path. The object did not crash into the wall and instead followed her across the room, back towards the door, picking up speed. It caught her in the corner.
The star was the one to say her name.
And the vase crashed and shattered.
Mikasa flopped along the floor, one of her arm's cut along the side and a nick on her cheek, the bird perch falling from her hands. Although shaken, she was mostly uninjured, able to lift herself up. She looked at the pile of glass shards and covered her mouth at the display.
Where she should have been Levi was. Thick, evil swords from the vase burrowed deep into his side, seeping vermillion blood. He moved with a creaking slowness. He collapsed from the attempted movement, unable to hold even his torso up with his arms. He sighed a hoarse breath.
"Levi! Levi, no!"
Petra was quicker than the eye could catch spiriting through the room to her fallen husband. She dropped to her kneels and, gentle as she could, shifted him onto his back, holding his face.
"Don't stay here." He warned with a sharp, yet strained voice. His eyes were cold and harsh. "Go, you are leaving yourself open. Petra, go."
Petra shrieked as something struck her shoulder. Fangs clung to her muscles, burning inside of her, shooting hot poison into her heart. She scrambled backwards, still shrieking, the snake hard with its bite. She gasped as it finally detached. It slithered loyally back to its master, wrapping around Annie's finger to become a ring once again.
"Do not worry, my dear." She said smoothly. "The venom will kill you in a minute or two."
Petra began to huff as her body seized up. Her eyes stared at nothing, wide and glossy. All of her veins ached as her body shut down. Levi reached out his hand, barely touching her leg.
For once Eren felt utterly hopeless. His sister was crouching in the doorway like the coward she was not, the man who had lent his horse had deep wounds and was possibly bleeding with internal lacerations, and the woman had a snakebite: a death sentence. Only he was unharmed, he who had hid like a helpless child while everyone else risked themselves to protect the star. His star. The one he loved. Armin. Armin, who was going to die like Petra with the death in her blood, hurting Levi just the same. Eren made a choice, a mistake, and he regretted it. He regretted it in his very soul.
"Eren…" the soft voice pushed away his woe and anger. "Eren, use the salve. Eren, use the knife. Eren… Use anything, use the will of fire I know you have. You only lose when you stop fighting. Eren, Eren, please."
And a new priority came over him.
The priority that no one was going to die, that no one was going to leave him like his mother. The priority that no one had to feel the way he had. The priority to not allow death to be selfish.
"Mikasa!" He shouted to her. He tossed her the jar of salve from behind the battered cabinet, Mikasa catching it with ease. "Put this over the snakebite and over his wounds! Now!"
The girl nodded once and was off across the room.
Eren hurled himself from behind the wooden chifferobe, putting himself before the wrath of the necromancers. He bared his teeth, held his stance, and flourished his knife for all to see. The yellow of his eyes shone like twin suns.
Annie held up her arms to control her fellow Diviners.
"Wait… I want this one for myself."
And she began to advance on Eren.
The smaller of the blue-metal knives was in her hand. She paused before the boy, matching his tense posture.
"Come on, Faerie prince! Don't you want your star back?"
And the hatred became too much.
Eren released a violent scream, charging towards the woman.
"I'll kill you! I swear to god I'll kill you!"
The lady necromancer was swifter. With an expert twirl she knocked the boy's legs down with her foot. His face hit the floor when he fell.
"Oops… Looks like you tripped."
The horrific sound of a wounded animal echoed around the cottage when she stabbed Eren in the spine.
"Oh, no need for that."
She purred as she did it again.
"Eren!" Was a collection of what the boy heard as he crawled away, slick blood running down his back. He bit away the pain, tried to ignore his injured back, and stood, his knife shaking but dangerous all the same.
And his legs collapsed beneath him.
"Eren, Eren, stand up!" Mikasa shouted as Annie moved towards him. The jar of green paste dropped from her hands, muscles tense to pounce. The salve had evened out Petra's breathing and slowed Levi's bleeding, but they were still hurt, still in need of care. Mikasa had to make a choice.
Armin struggled under his bonds. He thrashed enough to make himself chafe, his undersides throbbing as he smacked around on the table. The necromancers watched him, sorrowless.
"No worries, I am done with my fun…" Annie said sweetly. She grabbed Eren by his hair, yanking his face upwards. Their eyes met immediately. "It will be quick, I promise."
The knife was raised high for the plunge.
"No, Annie Leonhardt, no."
And the knife fell, lamely, to the earth.
The lady necromancer began to shake. A fearful, pitiful, cowardly quivering, moving even her very core. She turned as a shadow filled the doorway, clouding the sunlight. The wind ruffled her hair.
"Lady Eleonora." Annie whispered a small, pitched whisper. "You have returned."
"No, I am Ymir." The figure said with a huff, moving deeper into the cottage. Not in the sunlight at to her utter surprise Mikasa could see it was Ymir, with her tan skin and freckles and long spiral-curls. She stood with her feet apart in a very masculine array.
"Eleonora is my mother," Ymir said with confidence. "And she told me to tell you- Annie Leonhardt, Bertholdt Hoover, Reiner Braun- that you are not allowed to take the heart of one who lives forever. It is not yours."
Annie backed away. She was afraid, she was a cornered animal, she was powerless. The woman knew her true name and had used it against her, used it to strike the weapon from her hand. She could control her. Ymir was a dangerous threat of power, just like her mother.
"Annie!" Bertholdt said, scurrying over to her. He held her arm and backed her further away, shielding her with his size. She said nothing.
Ymir looked towards Reiner. His expression was dark and angry, golden eyes flashing. Ymir did not fear him.
"Free him." She ordered.
"Free the star, Reiner."
And he could not oppose her.
One by one he undid the leather straps. The star waited apprehensively, unsure until the final strap was unfastened. Armin wasted no time scrambling away from the table, hurrying towards Eren.
"Eren!" He said, kneeling beside the boy crumpled in on himself. Eren raised his head.
"Armin…" He said quietly. "Armin, you are alright."
The star shook his head at the unimportant fact. "Yes, I am alright. But you! You were the one who was stabbed. Twice."
"I'll make it. I think the wounds are healing."
Sure enough they were, the punctures nearly closed. The star wanted to cry with relief, but restrained himself, remaining strong. His lip trembled only minimally, his eyes fairly dry. He exhaled.
"Eren…" He said softly, finding the boy's hand. He squeezed even softer. "Please… Don't ever leave me again."
"I won't. I promise."
"I should have made it earlier, eh?" Was all Ymir had to say to Mikasa playing nurse.
Historia waited patiently with the horses. She gasped when she saw the wounded, insisting upon examining them herself. Levi, alert ever since Ymir had commanded the necromancers to heal him (and also to smash the mirror of souls), rejected the offer. He was the one to ride with Petra back to Wall, the woman sleeping with her ailment. She would live, but remain dormant while her body healed. Her shoulder was still puffed purple and tender. She was held onto the horse by her husband.
Eren trotted along with the star's arms wrapped around his waist. He was careful of the knife-holes, hold light, face pressed even lighter into Eren's back. Both said nothing and shifted positions little. Everyone was uptight and unsure.
The afternoon was still young when they reached the market. Historia and Ymir tended to the horses by the stream while the other's ventured inside, craving food and rest. They found both under an apple tree housing a flat bread cart.
"Mikasa, you should not be eating that, it is Faerie-food." Eren warned as she took a bite of the bread, chewing and swallowing thoroughly. She looked at her brother out of the corner of her eye.
"I don't think it matters much anymore."
Armin sat in the sunlight as the siblings bickered, Levi beside him. Petra's head was on his lap and he ran his fingers through her hair, his food already consumed. A breeze rolled by and he shut his eyes.
"He loves you, you know." Levi said. "Eren, I mean."
"I told him that I loved him once." The star said. "While he was a ferret. He could not understand it then, so I does not matter that I did. He wants to take me over the wall, where I cannot go. I will turn into stardust if I touch human soil."
"Do you think he will not stay here for you?"
"I do not know. I am not the only one with his heart. His sister has it to, for hearts are shared, not taken, I know that now. If I give up my share, if I give that to Mikasa, then he can be happy living on the other side of the wall while I remain. That is all I want for him."
Levi gave him a quizzical look. He tilted his head, eyes narrow.
"You cannot decide what makes him happy for him."
So the star decided to ask
He led Eren a little ways away, behind a thicket of blueberries. The fruits were small, fresh, not ready for picking. Armin looked down at these little berries.
"You once asked me what I desired…" the star said. "And then I told you. I told you desires change as hearts do. You said desires make life worth living, but never told me what yours was. So, tell me, Eren, what is it that you desire?"
"… What I desire?" He questioned. He gazed at the star, Armin still examining the blueberry bush, stoic and unspeaking. Eren thought upon the question. "What I desire. Well…"
And he could not say.
His desire to give Mikasa the star was still there, but it was very weak, like it no longer mattered as much as it had. His desire to go over the Wall was fulfilled as well. Eren was left drawing up only one thing he desired, but he did not want to admit it, did not want to hurt the chance of making it come true.
"I want many things, Armin…" Was his short, improvised answer. The star was not satisfied with this, shaking his head.
"No, what do you desire? What do you want most in the world?"
The clear, grey eyes of the star turned upon Eren and he knew he could not lie. He could not give half-answers, or mistruths, or anything false or silly. He knew he must give the raw truth, whatever it may be, whatever the cost. Armin waited.
"… I want you, Armin. I want you to be happy."
The star did not move.
"I cannot go over the wall. I will die, I will turn to stardust."
"I don't care. I will stay here if I have to."
"She will understand."
The star bore a sad expression. His eyes began to tear up and his throat jump as he swallowed the taste of the tears.
"Your heart is not only your own, Eren Jaeger." Armin said. "You give it to the ones who love you."
"I know." Eren said. He walked to the star, Armin's head bowed low. Eren cupped his chin and lifted up his face. "No matter the distance or time between, those who have my love will still have my heart. That is what love is: having something and being willing to let it go. Nothing worth having can be hoarded."
Armin allowed Eren to kiss his cheeks and wipe away his tears. He pressed his cheek into Eren's palm, soothing himself with his touch.
"A star, and a mortal man…"
"A Faerie-man, actually." Eren said with a smile. "Turns out you were right all along."
"I always am."
Eren began to laugh, only to be stopped when the star attached their lips. He had to lean up and through a mess of hair to do so, but he did not care in the slightest. Eren could feel the frazzling bubbles under Armin's skin fizzle and pop, per usual, and could not think of a finer sensation to have. He could see the sparkles surrounding the star, even in the daylight. They were brighter, more numerous than ever. The star's heart was burning in his chest and Eren could feel it in his own.
They could see no parting.
Armin and Eren returned hand in hand. Mikasa saw this and a joy grew in her, the joy of seeing her brother in love. She had known so when he first told her of the star, how lovingly he talked of him. And here they were to make each other happy in an amazing way they had never known before.
She stood to meet them. Levi continued to sit, only watching idly, the matters not concerning him. His lips quirked.
"Mikasa…" Eren said. He left his star to go to her, eyes soulful. It was then she realized how tall he had gotten.
"I… Am going to stay here with Armin." He said and took her hand. "So… This is goodbye. Tell Dad-"
"Eren." She cut him short, then smiled, dazzling her whole face. "Eren, you never let me finish. That night, under the stars, when we saw him fall, you never let me finish. I did not know what my desire was then, perhaps it was the star, but it was not until you left, not until I thought I would never see you again that I truly desired something. My desire is to stay with you, Eren. To see you be happy. To see you be in love. The star- Armin- he was never mine to begin with. Love is the only thing beautiful forever."
Mikasa embraced him then, his ribs crackling with the pressure.
"Please… Let me have what I desire. Let me stay here with you, with Armin."
"… Okay. Okay, Mikasa."
Armin put a hand over his glowing heart and smiled.
Levi nodded, relishing in what he had assisted happening.
"You did not kill the lady necromancer," Erwin said, coming up behind him.
"All in due time."