Goddess of Thunder and Lightning
The pass of Mount Stohess was misty and cold from the rain of the days passed. Levi led a rugged and stout pony along the gravelled path. Both moved slowly, carefully. Levi looked ahead.
A wooden cart rested beside the trail, old and cracked, overturned. The paint that once embellished its sides was now faded and chipped. A dead goat sprawled next to it, flies nipping at the body. A deep hole through its heart oozed dry blood. A man with tanned skin lied a few meters away. His skull was crushed in, fluids leaking down to his stiff face. The pelvis and legs were separate from his torso. They were not cut apart cleanly as if with a sharp instrument, but rather jagged and unneeded, as if a racing carriage had half-heartedly ripped him in half. Levi moved on.
With a little more investigating Levi found another body. The person was face-down in a ditch, dusted with rumble. Levi heaved and flipped the man on his back.
He saw the slashed neck first, the indigo blood crusting the area, the wound a smooth curve. His face was pale and drained, eyes staring endlessly. A harsh and pinched expression overtook Levi's face.
"Erwin," he spoke coldly. "You were supposed to be the next Lord of Phoenixwing. Not I." Even though Levi spat the words, there was a tenderness to them, a caring sorrow.
"Now it will be you." Erwin said grimly, a shadow among his fallen brothers.
"Once he retrieves the topaz stone." Nile added snootily.
A wind hushed across the pass. Levi's cloak spread against the wind like a curtain, the man standing and hugging the garment to his chilled body.
"I will give you a proper burial." Levi told the corpse. "In the lowlands, under a rowan-berry tree. You who took what I was and made what I am deserve that."
"And you must take revenge upon the murder." Mike said.
"I will do that as well." Levi replied, eyes sharp as glass looking towards the ring of fallen brothers.
Startled, the brothers blinked as they met his eyes.
"You can hear us?" Auruo questioned unhappily, feeling betrayed.
"Of course I can." Levi said. "Anyone can. It is few who choose to listen to what is said."
Levi led the tawny pony forward, pausing by the ghosts.
"I will kill the bitch who slit your throat."
And he left it at that, loading Erwin's corpse onto the pony and continuing down the mountain path with a flat expression.
Eren discovered that clouds were strange things.
They were solid and spongy, unwhole and vaporous all at once. Eren found out he could push himself into the cloud if he so chose and possibly fall through to the earth, but did not test out the theory questioning whether clouds have a bottom.
His angry and burned hand had healed quickly into small and drying blisters. The star's leg, however, remained broken. He sat a distance away from Eren with his leg propped on a tufted knoll. His hair and face and robe remained bloody and blue.
"Well, we have made quite a mess of everything." Eren told the star matter-of-factly, sitting down beside him.
"Did you really have to stab her?" The star asked hotly, eyes terrible and stormy.
"Yes!" Eren barked. "She meant to kill us! She is an animal, a beast, and needs to be put down. Sometimes animals are disguised as people."
The star was silent for a moment. He drew up his good knee, resting his head.
"… You saved my life." He added, softly.
"… I suppose I did, yes."
The star hid his face. "I hate you." He said.
"You hate me?" Eren questioned testily. "I save your life and you hate me?"
"Now I am bound to you forever!" The star cried, whipping his head upwards. "My freedom is gone. Now that you have saved my life, by the law of my people, you are now responsible for me and I for you. Where you go, I go. I would rather be chained to a goblin or a dwarf or a dirty lizard…"
The star gulped as he tried not to cry, lip quivering. Then it happened all at once. He burst forth, gripping and burrowing into Eren's sleeve, tears raking streams through the blood on his face.
"Oh my god!" He wailed. "Oh god, I am sorry, I… Oh Great Grandfather, that was the first time I ever thought I was going to die!"
The boy felt sorry for the star. He had been there before, in agony and fear, crying despite it helping nothing. Old as he was, he was not invulnerable.
"I am sorry…" Eren said gently, trying to be supporting. He cupped the back of the star's head reassuringly, stoking lightly. His hair was thick and dry as if with clay.
The star backed away when he had cried himself content, face nearly clean.
"I am sorry I was so nasty to you," the star said, tone still wavering. "You who has only meant me goodwill thus far."
"I am sorry I chained you to me." Eren responded, catching the star by surprise.
"… Can we start over?" The star asked finally, timidly.
"Of course." Eren agreed, a smile catching his lips. He held out his hand to shake. "I am Eren Jaeger. Pleased to meet you." Eren told the star his full name and knew he had earned it.
The star became pink. He took the offered hand and shook once in haste.
"My siblings called me Armin."
"Armin." He said with bite. "You see… My siblings were not always very kind to me. Armin means 'whole' or 'universal', and I am a tiny star… Nothing like Betelgeuse, or Aldebaran…" The star said, trailing off in embarrassment.
"I think it is a wonderful name." Eren interjected. Armin smiled.
In all the merriment Eren had forgotten their predicament. He reached for his bag, only to realize he had left it at the inn, in the stables.
"Half a mile above the world and all we have is the clothes on our backs. We also do not know where the cloud is headed, you are injured, and we have no food or water. And we have no way of getting down. It appears we are doomed."
"Most likely." The star said with pointed and false optimism. "But I am sure the fall when the cloud dissipates will kill us both."
A fierceness crossed Eren. He stood, refusing that fate. "I am not going to let that happen."
He left the star and went off across the cloud.
Annie traveled high into the crags, whipping along a team of black stallions leading a black carriage. Her throat was completely exposed, skinless, the disease creeping towards her face to eat at the skin there. Her dress was ripped and rusted red at the shoulder, the bare muscle there an even deeper crimson. The green cape hid the remaining splatters of blue and red blood.
The lady necromancer halted the horses beside an outcropping of rock. The animals were sweating and overworked, nearly dead from the effort. Annie did not appear to care.
Annie dropped from the coachman seat, moving to open the carriage door. The body of the unicorn flopped out as she did so. The cut on its throat stained the brilliant white of its breast, eyes still agape and glassy.
Annie removed the cleaving knife from the inside of her cloak. She began to mutilate the body of the unicorn, causing the remains of its liquid blood to flow down the rocks to a shallow depression. She removed the neck from the head, clipping open the side it had lied on to free the blood that had pouched there. She soon had a pool of dark fuchsia blood.
She sat beside the small sea of ichor, twirling the ring on her finger.
"Bertholdt, Reiner," She addressed when the faces shimmered from the pool.
"Where is the star?" Reiner asked crossly. "Where has he gone?"
"Oh, Annie!" Bertholdt said with worry. "Your skin, the mirror… You have almost used up all of the heart we saved…"
"I chopped that one from the breast of the star nearly four-hundred years ago, although she screamed and cried ever so." Reiner said.
Annie's lips curled in disgust. "The star…" she began. "The star is not alone. He had a unicorn, which I slaughtered, and I shall bring the horn back with me to use in our cantrips and potions."
"It would have been wise to capture the soul as well." Reiner said. "You are depleting our reserve every day. But never mind that, what about the star?"
"He is with a boy." Annie said. "A boy with pointed ears, an elfin boy, and he protects him as well. He has taken the star somewhere I cannot feel his presence, as if he left Faerie altogether."
"… No." Bertholdt said hesitantly. "The star is still in Faerie, on his way to the Market of Wall. You must catch him before he crosses the threshold and is lost to us."
Annie bowed her head. "I understand. I shall go to Shiganshina Gate, for all on their way to Wall must pass there."
Annie stood herself up, the reflection in the pool empty save for the sky. She took the disembodied head of the unicorn and sat it beside her in the driver's seat. She whipped the reins and the exhausted horses lurched forth, trotting down the mountain trail.
Being so high in the clouds and far above the problems of the world made Eren thankful.
Even though he was starving and in great peril while he remained in the shifting clouds, he was thankful to be alive, feeling more in the now and part of the world than ever before. Even as he imagined what lay in store for him, his troubles seemed trivial and not worth worrying about. Armin and him would carry on, somehow, and he knew it to be true.
"Hello!" he called across the sky. "Anyone? Hello!" He shouted until he was satisfied, journeying back to sit by the star.
"What are you yelling about?" Armin inquired at his return.
"I am yelling to let people know we are here," Eren said, feeling very smart.
"… I think we are the only ones up here." Armin sighed. "But I suppose it is better to yell at no one than to not yell at anyone."
Eren relaxed on his back. He watched the higher and thinner clouds cruse by, the cirruses uncaring of him or his companion.
"You know…" He said after a moment. "After this is all over, after I have given you to Mikasa, maybe I can give you what you desire."
"I desire to return to the heavens." He replied. "To shine again. But when stars fall, they never go back again."
"You could be the first," Eren encouraged with a cocky grin. "In order to get what you desire, you have to believe you can."
The star sighed again. "I could desire the grass to be blue and the sky to be green, yet no matter how much I believe, it will never happen. And desires change, as hearts and people do. Such as I suppose my true desire is to not have to desire anything, as I did while dancing the sky."
Eren looked towards the boy. "What is the point of living if you have nothing to live for?"
"Ahoy!" a voice rang down from above before the star could answer. "Hello? Those in need of assistance?"
"Yes!" Eren shouted, jumping up. "Yes, over here!"
The bow of a wooden ship appeared from within the topmost cumulus clouds. It was a small vessel with one mast and few sails, riding the currents of the air. A man with a shaven head was leaning over the side, catching eye of the couple upon the clouds.
"Was that you yelling into the clouds just now?" He asked.
"It was," Eren confirmed. "We are in need of assistance."
"I will send down the ladder, then," The man said with a wink and grin.
Eren looked upon Armin, his broken leg still unusable.
"My companion has a broken leg." He told the man. "I am afraid he cannot climb a ladder."
"No worries, we can just put you up!" He said, throwing a rope ladder from the side of the ship. Eren held the rung level with his head. He then helped the star to stand upon the final rung, looping his other arm around him to hold him secure. He locked his boot heels and free elbow to the ladder.
"We're all set!" Eren called to the crew.
The ship began to rise, leaving the pair dangling unrestrained from the rope ladder. Armin did not seem nearly as nervous as Eren at having no substance below them.
"Heave!" the crew ordered in unison, the ladder being jerked upwards. "Heave! Heave! Heave!"
Someone held out a hand when they reached the side, aiding the star in stumbling over the railing. Eren pulled himself over and landed awkwardly on the deck.
"Welcome aboard!" The man with the shaven head greeted, extending a hand gingerly. "First mate Connie Springer, at your service!"
Eren shook his hand civilly. Up close he could see the man had strangely purple eyes and a soft grey tint to his skin.
"Welcome to the Dauper Ragako!" A loud, musical voice announced. Eren and the star looked towards the voice, alarmed. They saw a woman open her great ivory wings, fluttering gracefully to the lower deck.
"Welcome to my ship!" She invited again, taking a deep bow. Her brunette braid dipped over her head. She stood straight and smiled, brown eyes glowing. She had a pretty yellow gloss color to her lips that complimented them. Her snow-white wings rested folded on her back.
"Captain Sasha Braus, lighting-expeditioner extraordinaire!" She provided, shaking Eren's hand as well.
She dismissed him before he could reply to her, engrossing herself with the star.
"Oh, poor child…" She cooed, kneeling beside Armin. "Broken bones are always nasty things. And look at you! Covered in mess."
"… Ah, yes." The star agreed, blinking softly.
"Connie!" Sasha shouted, the man standing to attention. "Get the salve! Get the bath ready!"
The salve was a herby green paste. It soothed all pain from Armin's leg, diminishing the swollen and bruised areas. It was the greatest relief the star had felt in days.
"My own family recipe," The captain boasted. "Should heal you right up. Now! A bath! Then dinner!" She declared with vigor, looking between the guests. "We eat within the hour. You may sit with me at my table."
Sasha was happy to show the pair the way to the gallery. They went below deck for this, passing a duo of stalls housing fierce beats. The creatures were large and had sharp, dangerous beaks, the eyes and faces like that of eagles. Their brown feathers were plentiful on their chests and shoulders and wings. Legs like a birds supported their frontal half, feet brandished with talons. The other half of them, however, had hair and hooves. Their backsides were like horses, with thick muscles and long wry tails. They looked up as Sasha approached.
"And these are my babies!" The captain informed them. She began to rub at their necks, causing the beasts to make contented cat noises. "Honeybee and Cocoa, my hippogriffs. They are the ones who collect the lightning for us!"
"How?" Armin asked, generally interested.
"Oh! Well, you see…"
The conversation about the doings about and of lightning-hunting continued well into dinner. Armin had cleaned the blue blood from his hair and looked more pleased and refreshed than before. He borrowed an old shirt and pants from one of the male crew members, the articles only slightly too large.
The stew was hardy and perfectly filling, the water provided clean and cold and delicious. Eren made pleasant conversation with the other five members of the crew. Connie had a wonderful sense of humor and made the crew laugh with his jokes and silliness, raising Eren and the star's spirits immensely.
The crew asked no questions about why Eren and Armin were found upon a cloud and neither said anything about it. They only ate and made merry, although no one more than the captain herself.
The time Eren and Armin spent upon the Dauper Ragako was an amazing and delightful time. The star could rest his wounded leg as much as he pleased, often spending his days conversing with the hippogriffs in a way Eren did not understand. Armin once told the boy that the hippogriffs had flown around the moon although Eren did not understand how or why. He questioned it and the star only smiled. Not knowing irked him.
Eren often helped with the day-to-day sailing and navigation. He learned the way of tracking lightning storms and catching the bolts. The ship would sail first into a storm cloud, the rain drenching the ship and people aboard. Honeybee and Cocoa would be released into the storm to hunt their prey. They flew fast, incredibly fast, faster than the lightning they chased. They caught the crackling bolts in their beaks, returning to the ship to hoard them in copper chests. Sasha would laugh with the thrill of it. The rain slipped from her oiled wings as she watched the flight of the hippogriffs from the side of the ship.
Armin enjoyed sitting on the boat's figurehead during calmer days. He watched the ground pass below, fearless of heights, feeling like he was with the other stars in the heavens once again.
"Your friend's leg is healing nicely." Sasha said to Eren one afternoon. She joined him leaning against the railing, watching the slow clouds ease by.
"That is good." Eren said. "All due to your care, I am sure."
Sasha laughed at that. "What flattery! That salve does do wonders. My father showed me how to make it many years ago. Your friend should be able to put his weight on it within the week."
A wind blew, rustling the feathers upon the woman's wings.
"When we port at the end of the week we will let you off there. You shall be closer to Wall, although it shall still be a journey of many weeks on foot."
Eren was startled. He looked at the woman, wary.
"How do you know we are going to Wall?" He demanded. "I never said anything about it. When you asked where we came from I said 'Behind us' and when you asked where we were going I said 'Ahead of us'.
A grin held her lips.
"It was not only fortune that led us to you." The captain told Eren. "Well, I suppose it was fortune for you. I, and a few others, were keeping an eye out for you and your companion."
"Do you know of a little bearded man with a pack much too big for him?"
"… Hannes?" Eren said, finally.
She nodded once. "Yes, he told us about you. I, and others, are part of this, how you say, fellowship that has an interest in your return to Wall. But this is nothing to speak aloud, mind you."
Eren said nothing.
"That'a boy!" Sasha said, an accent coming out with her enthusiasm. "Oh, and also: if your little star wants to pass for something other than he is he might try eating every so often."
Eren told this to the star and the star agreed. His splint was ready to come of by the end of the week according to Sasha. She removed the wraps and wooden splits, Armin taking to walking carefully and shakily about the deck. Eren watched as he held onto the rails for support. He could soon walk alone, limping only slightly. It made the boy with pointed ears smile.
The ship harvested lightning once more before taking port. The boat docked beside dozens of other such vessels in an impossibly large tree. It was so large it not only held ships but a town with buildings on its branches and along its trunk. Armin and Eren said their goodbyes to the crew of the Dauper Ragako and it was a sorrowful event, causing Connie to shed a tear. He gifted the star a new outfit, consisting of a white shirt with a blue overcoat and ruddy trousers. Sasha gave him a jar of her salve, directing him to varnish his leg with it whenever it ailed him. Eren received a satchel full of foodstuffs and a knife and other useful paraphernalia.
"We cannot have you starving along the way." The captain clucked when Eren tried to return the benefactions.
The only way down from the tree was looping around the stairs carved into its trunk. The boy and the star walked upon them cautiously, the descent painstakingly particular. Eren felt relief when he touched the earth again, but also loss, as if something he could never do again had just ended. His heart hurt.
It took many days for the tree to vanish behind the horizon. They traveled the road towards Wall, going by Eren direction. They slept under trees and ate wild plants when they could find them, otherwise picking at the provisions given to them. It was only later Eren noticed the copper tube in the bottom of the bag. It was engraved with a strange seal.
"That is a canister for individual lightning bolts." Armin said, sure of it. "I wonder why Sasha would give that to you?"
Eren did not know either.
Sometimes the pair slept outside, sometimes in barns of farmers in exchange for work, sometimes in inns when they had the money. Trouble also seemed to follow them wherever they went. Thieves like to pick at them, along with wild beasts such as chimeras and trolls and goblins. Armin saved them many times with his quick wit and judgment, and Eren just as many times with his disregard for using violence and his frightening anger. They survived with only bruises and cuts.
Eren's hair became long and wild, his skin tan, while the star never changed. His limp remained, his hair never grew beyond his shoulders, and his skin was always pale.
Eren also heard the star sing for the first time. It was a hypnotizing and magnificent sound, the sound of the infinity before time and the forever after. It filled Eren with its unworldly charm, putting him in utter peace and contentment.
"I have not heard you sing since you comforted the unicorn." Eren said when he finished.
"I was only humming then." Armin said. "I suppose this was the first time I have felt like singing."
"It was very beautiful." Eren said.
The star smiled, cheeks blushing modestly. "Thank you. Some nights my siblings and I sing together, about our Grandfather and dancing and shining and what will be before and after time."
"It sounds lonely."
"I suppose it is…" Armin said, sighing. "But it is the life of a star. It is our job to show to beauty of being lonely despite not being alone."
"I am sorry." Eren said.
The star laughed, lightly. "Don't be, it is not your fault. Because of you I am still alive. I am lucky to have fallen in Faerie, and lucky to have met you. Because of you I have the hope that I might be the first star to return to the sky."
A hot, aching desire filled Eren's heart. Its presence made him angry, and miserable at the same time, a neediness engulfing him.
"Thank you." Eren said, tightly.
"You are welcome…" Armin said, smiling in a blissful smile that made Eren's whole being hurt.
Eren was in love and he knew it.
Eren found a ferret while looking for breakfast.
He had a small sack of mushrooms and berries that he found while scavenging. He was ready to go back to the star when he saw the animal in the undergrowth. It interested him because he had never seen a ferret with peach fur, the only colors he remembered being white and grey and black. The ferret cocked its head, red eyes winking.
Eren approached the creature. It was not startled, only looking up to him when he was before it. The ferret made a point to draw attention to its leg. A silver chain like the one he had trapped the star with linked its leg, the length of the chain tangled around a root.
"Need help?" Eren asked, the ferret chirping a confirmation.
Eren unwrapped the chain from the root delicately. He patted the creature on the head when he finished.
"There you go, all better." Eren said, but the animal only chittered, knocking a head against his palm.
"Go home." Eren directed irritably. "I know someone is probably waiting for you." He picked up the ferret like a swathed baby.
A darkness crept through his blood then, freezing and frightening him. The ferret made an angry noise, perking up.
"Thief!" A voice howled from afar. "Thief! That is my ferret! I shall feed you to the trolls, I shall turn you into a mayfly, I shall roast your heart on a spit! Thief!"
A woman came crashing through the underbrush, her eyes afire. Her spectacles had become crooked with her haste.
"I am not a thief!" Eren said furiously, more angry with than fearful of the woman. "You ferret was caught on a root and I freed it, nothing more!"
"Lies." The woman said darkly, viewing the ferret in his hold. As if to make a point, the ferret scurried down, going to sit on the woman's shoulder. The animal chattered into her ear and she listened carefully, skeptical.
"… I suppose not everything you said was a lie." The woman said.
"Nothing I said was a lie!" Eren shouted after the two. He grumbled as they left, taking the mushrooms and berries to Armin.
He was rubbing the salve on his leg when Eren returned, albeit in bad spirits. He told him about the state of his morning, the rage within him diluting. The star cocked his head afterwards, inquisitive.
"Well, that is odd…" Armin said. "A golden ferret…"
They both thought that to be the end of it. They knew they were wrong, however, when in the afternoon they were passed by a mule-carried caravan while walking. The witch with the glasses was the driver. She pulled her reins to a stop, leaning from the driver's seat to motion at Eren.
"Come hither." She said.
Eren walked closer, uneasy.
"I own you an apology." She said, smiling a kind smile. "You were telling the truth, I just jumped to a conclusion too quickly. You were holding my most valuable property, you know."
Eren nodded to accept her grievances.
The witch then hopped to the ground. Her smile grew, eyes shinning. "Here, let me have a look at you!" She cheered, uncaring of Eren's permission. She circled him many times, feeling his face enough for Eren to grow agitated.
"Hum…" She said, staring into his eyes. "You seem honest enough, and handsome too. Your eyes remind me of someone I know, yes, with eyes like burning embers." She stood erect then. "Call me Hanji!" She introduced. "How would you like to work for me? You see, I am on my way to the Market of Wall and need a boy to work for me. Not hard work, oh no, just selling flowers, glass flowers, the prettiest things. You would be a fine market-boy… Well, what do you say? Do we have a deal?"
Eren knew better than to answer right away. "One moment, please," he excused himself. He went back to Armin and discussed the matter with him. They came to a conclusion and returned to the witch together.
"Good day," Armin said. "We have decided that your offer is-"
"Well?" Hanji interrupted, heed completely upon Eren. "Do not just stare! Speak, boy, speak!"
"I do not wish to work at the market." Eren responded after a moment. "I have business of my own to attend to. However, my companion and I are willing to pay for a ride to the market."
The witch shook her head, enthusiasm dying. "No can do. You would just be more weight for the mules. I do not take passengers."
"But, we would pay you!" Eren said, unsatisfied.
Hanji laughed at his childish desperation. "There is nothing you can give me to convince me! Now, if you were to work for me, I would give you journey to Wall. Otherwise, be off with you."
Eren reached into the pocket of his shirt, finding the smooth and perfect glass of the snowdrop he had guarded throughout his travels. He presented it to the witch, holding it with care.
"You sell glass flowers, right? How about this one?"
Hanji's brown eyes widened. Her jaw grew slack, hungry. She let out a cry, lunging forward. "Where did you get that?! Give it to me! Give it to me right now!"
Eren protected the flower with both hands, enclosing it against his chest. He turned away, shunning the woman.
"It appears I have realized how much I like this flower." Eren said. "It was a gift from my father and carries a lot of sentimental value. It has brought me luck and fortune throughout my journey and I wish to keep it. We can always walk to Wall."
The witch nearly imploded. She desperately wanted the snowdrop, the desire clear with her composure and expression. She took a deep breath and feigned self-control.
"No need to be like that! I am sure we can reach a deal."
"I doubt it." Eren said, nose upturned. "It would have to be worth my loss. It would have to be a very fine deal, with guarantees of safe-conduct and safeguards to assure your behavior and actions towards me and my companion will always be benevolent and free of malice."
"… Let me see the snowdrop again."
Eren faced the witch again and peeked the flower from his hands. The golden ferret crawled from the caravan, perching on the roof to watch the situation below. Armin looked at the poor creature and sighed.
"Why do you keep her chained up so? You should let her free."
Hanji did not answer or acknowledge the star. She only peered at the glass flower, thinking.
"I promise to transport you to Wall, and I swear upon my magic and true name that I will not harm you along the journey."
"Or by action, or indirect action, allow harm to come to me or my companion."
"Very well, as you say."
Eren eyed the woman, distrustful.
"And," he added. "You must swear that we will arrive in Wall in the same state and condition we are now, and you will give us board and lodging upon the way."
Hanji nodded violently. "Yes, yes! We have a deal!"
She jutted out her hand. Eren, carefully, took her hand, shaking. "We have a deal."
"Now give me the flower!" She said greedily. It was such a great greed that Eren regretted not making a better deal, but passed her the fragile object anyway. She grasped the flower close when it became hers.
"I do believe this is better than the one that servant-girl gave away all those years ago!" She said with relish. "Now, child… Do you know what this is?"
"A glass flower." He said simply.
"Not only that!" She said, giggling madly. "It is a thing of power, a frozen charm! It can perform wonders, miracles… Here, watch!" She tapped the snowdrop against Eren's forehead.
Eren suddenly noticed he was very small. He blinked, staring at the woman's feet with his vision dazed. He made a sound of warning, a chirping grunt.
"Eren!" Armin gasped, kneeling by the dark ferret. The animal stared upwards, stupid.
The golden ferret atop the caravan made a displeased sound, crawling downwards to the ground. She chattered softly to the star and black ferret, comforting. With that Armin knew it would be alright.
"No hard feelings…" Hanji said, picking up the boy ferret, oblivious of the star. "It is not a very big caravan, you know. And I will still keep my end of the bargain, no worries."
"And what do you plan to do to me?" Armin asked as she climbed into the caravan, exasperated. He was hardly fazed when she did not answer him. He followed the witch into the one-room wagon, complete with a bed and an oaken shelf packed with glass flowers resting upon grass.
Hanji put the snowdrop in one of the shelf holes. She found a cage under her low bed. She put Eren, still blinking in confusion, inside the cage, hanging it upon a hook by the door. She rummaged for some dry meat strips and tossed them into the cage.
"There, board and lodging."
Armin watched with concern from his seat on the witch's bed.
"Excuse me," he said to the witch. "But from what I see at hand and the evidence collected before, evidence such as you acknowledging none of me, can I take it that you neither see or hear me?"
Hanji said nothing at all. She only shut the door and mounted the driver's seat, flipping the reins. The golden ferret sat on her shoulder.
You have not kept your word, the jill said with unrefined hatred.
"I have kept my word to the letter," The witch replied shrewdly. "He shall be transformed back when we reach Wall. And after that you will be made human, for you must run the flower-stall. If only I could find a better servant…" She sighed, bumping along with the caravan. "But I do believe that snowdrop is better than the one you gave away years ago. Oh, happy day!"
If you say so, the golden ferret said.
Armin played a strange tango with the witch who could not see him. He slept while she was awake, and was awake while she slept. He rested upon the roof of the caravan and watched the stars, speaking with the ferret in the strange way he did with all animals. It was the only time she could since she ignored the star while the witch was about.
Eren is too confused to speak, to think, the ferret told the star when he asked why Eren would not converse with him. He was made utterly into an animal and does not know how to be relieved from it.
"How do you know his name is Eren?" The star asked.
The golden ferret got a wolfish look. You said his name when he was changed, remember?
The star blushed, guilty.
Also, I know because I named him.
The ferret and the star learned of each other's past as the weeks came and went. Armin learned of the ferret's life as a princess of Phoenixwing, of her curse, of the event of Eren's birth. The ferret learned of the stars, the moon, and the doings in the heavens. They bonded over their loneliness.
Eren looks like his father, the ferret said one night under the stars. With his dark hair and authority.
"Who is Eren's father?" The star asked politely.
His name is Levi, the ferret said. He is the head general of Phoenixwing. I fell in love with him during the Necromancer Wars, as a solider in his elite squadron. Many of my brothers died in the wars and he comforted me. After the conflict ended we married and soon we were expecting a child… Eren. You know you must not tell him any of this.
Perhaps he needs to find out for himself. And even if you tell him, what will it do? He has a family in Wall. I sacrificed the right to be his mother so he could be happy, free, living away from my torment and the burden of being a prince of Phoenixwing. As long as he is ignorant this cannot be. As long as he is ignorant he can be happy, carrier of the Power of Phoenixwing. Let him be as he already is and not what could have been.
"What about Eren's father? Levi?"
I unfortunately had to make a decision for him.
Armin thought about this for a long while. He watched the stars spin slowly in the sky, time slow as well. The ferret curled into his side to sleep.
"… When do you know you are in love?" The star whispered, knowing the golden ferret to be sleeping and not expecting an answer.
The ferret, however, sighed, replying.
You know you are in love when you know another person owns your heart.
Armin cared for the ferret while the witch was away. He gave him more food and took him out of the cage to caress and sing to him, hoping that somehow he understood him. Eren spent most of his days sleeping, instinctively trying to communicate when the other ferret wrapped around the top of his cage. She was there to comfort him, or more herself, protective of her child.
The star's leg pained him no longer. He was now grateful for the times he was permitted to walk, the limp still present. He knew he would always have it since Eren was no doctor, but accepted the reality, living with his scar.
Armin was afraid speaking to others would unveil his existence to the witch. He found this not to be true when a traveler he was speaking to inquired about him to Hanji and the witch ignored him, unable to perceive in any way the presence of the star.
"Eren…" the star said softly, rubbing the velvety area of his chin. "Eren, if you can understand me, look at me now." The black ferret opened his red, beady eyes, smiling with sharp teeth. Whether he smiled in love of the treatment or in love of the star Armin did not care.
"Eren, I think I love you." Armin said, pain threading his voice. "I miss you, Eren, I really do. I miss your smile, and I even miss when you get angry or violent, because I know that is a part of you… For centuries I have watched this world tear itself apart with wars and lies and hate and pain. But the love I saw… That made it bearable, that made me unable to turn away. To see love is to see the most beautiful thing the universe has to offer. I know love is unconditional and unpredictable and unexpected and uncontrollable and unbearable, but it is also so beautiful. And, well, Eren… I think I love you. My heart, it is filled with all those things, and I no longer feel like it is mine. It is yours now. Whether I get back into the sky does not matter to me now. I told you desires changed and now my desire has. I want nothing more than for you to love me. Nothing more. Your heart… For mine."
The ferret bumped his head against the star's wrist and he began to sob.