His heart drummed rapidly with anticipation and a bit of apprehension while he walked carefully on the brick surface, trailing his pack. The sun shown brightly from the heavens, sky blue and clear as it could possibly be. The titan's ears flickered and faced forward at the sounds of eager and enthused human tongue up ahead. There was a vast difference in the human city compared to the last time he had walked the streets – a time that was a little over two months ago. The human residences and what his friends told him were 'shops' were all but abandoned, people seemingly dropping any task to leave. Their destination and gathering place was just up ahead near the outer gate of Katness. Like the first time he had paraded down the walk with his fellow Scouts, the sidelines were lined with spectators that were whooping and hollering in praise. From his height and distance, Rogue could tell that humans of all sizes were waiting eagerly with eyes glued. His heart fluttered in his chest at the scene. The aura of anticipation was practically radiating from the crowd – all ready to bless the pack with luck on the imminent hunt.
Rogue then welcomed his bulk to shutter as he gradually shadowed the soldiers at the rear. He was torn between two emotions – zeal and tenseness. For the last few days, the titan had been experiencing the two different feelings in light of the expedition. After time away from his purpose and duty, Rogue couldn't help but feel the excitement coursing through his frame at the thought of tearing tissue and coating his tan skin with crimson nectar of his kin. In the recent weeks, it had been like an itch that he wanted to constantly scratch, the need to exterminate the looming pests for the well being of his new family and the rest of the humans was a great one. The fact that he was now part of the flying human pack as a designated member, made him all the more excited – he was to work with the best titan slayers and with their aid, his job would be done quicker. Rogue then swallowed, brow creasing slightly at the clinging tension. Then again, he was admittedly nervous, very nervous. No, he wasn't fearful of making a mistake on the mission. Ever since the trial, Levi had reminded him to follow all orders, which he had to do in order to avoid being judged again. He was confident that he would do well enough. If it was one thing he learned being trained under the iron fist of the Corporal, was that listening was rewarding. By doing such a thing, no matter how much he didn't want to or disagreed with it, Rogue usually escaped the daunting and unpleasant task of cleaning that most of the 'recruits' were usually forced to do. The real source of his nerves originated from his constant concern for his friends and his babies' safety. Rogue often found himself telling him that they were powerful and capable of killing just as he was. However, no matter how strong, fast, and smart they were his closest companions were still small and fragile. One hit from a titan could easily crush them; one bite could easily chop them in half –
Rogue shook his head in the slightest to rid the thoughts from his mind. They were strong. They would survive.
They had to.
"Are you alright, Rogue?"
In light of the question falling on his ears, the titan turned his head slightly to Petra who was to be residing on his shoulder during the hunt. As usual, she looked to him with a warm gaze, the difference being the flicks of concern within her amber irises.
"Aahhtt?" Rogue asked softly, trying to keep his deep voice as quiet as possible. Although he was allowed to reveal his voice for people like Zackley, Pixis, and even Nile he wasn't to show his special gift to anyone else for the sake of not startling the still judgmental public.
The redhead's smile grew more tender, small but understanding - reminding him of his Carla for the umpteenth time. "Is something bothering you? Nerves getting to you again?"
Rogue hesitated, monitoring how much further they were from the crowd. "Esss." He admitted. "EEIIii EaAArrr OOSSIngg NNyyy AAiiibbiieess …AAmmmiLEEE." The titan continued to explain, his heart feeling like a weight in his chest. "EEEiiii OOOSSSEE OTTss. OOssttt CCuurllla UnnD GRRissaa."
Green eyes watched painfully as Petra's smile grew smaller still before returning once again and rubbing her delicate hands on the flesh of his neck. "I understand what you're saying, Rogue. No one wants to lose a loved one and nothing can prepare anyone for a sudden loss. Every Scout has that exact thought running through their heads on missions, me included. However, you must be strong mentally in addition to physically. We all have different fates Rogue, and all of them contribute to the survival of humanity. Worthy causes."
The titan's ears flickered in intrigue at her words. He wasn't quite sure what she meant, but by her tone she had to mean well.
"I'm not sure about you per say, but someday,we will all meet our fates. It's the natural order of things. Of course, as we've told you and as you've seen – your little ones are among the best thanks to you. Plus Hange, Levi's squad, the new recruits, and I are either the most experienced titan slayers or graduated at the top of their class. In addition to you, we have an even greater chance of survival and success rate now more than we ever had. So take a deep breath Rogue and just relax." Petra assured. "I bet you're looking forward to hunting titans again aren't you?"
Absorbing her words like a sponge, Rogue let a smile pull at his lipless maw – nodding slightly so to not accidentally toss Petra from his shoulder. The titan's now lively greens then glanced down at his feet. Away from his wake rode his little ones who were talking with Connie and Jean. Though they were in conversation, both Armin and Mikasa looked up to him to exchange quick waves and smiles before returning to trade their human tongue. Rogue nodded to himself. Yes, Petra was right. His allies and closest companions were strong. They would survive.
The titan then turned his attention forward to see that the front of the pack had come to a halt before the gate – the portal to the territory of the titans and his previous domain. Slowly, the horses edged forward before stopping in wait. Gradually, the tail end of the pack edged into the area where the spectators were lining the wide path. Slowly, Rogue edged forward, decreasing the length of his steps. However, though he was trying to not be disruptive, the titan's weighty footfalls reverberated throughout the area – window frames vibrating, loose objects rattling, and provoking a few gasps from the audience below. Like the others, Rogue then came to a halt, letting his eyes wander to the sidelines. The titan then fell to observation, letting his vibrant greens meander and elfish ears become erect. He suddenly decided that it was best not to let his eyes stroll, just in case the signal to proceed was a visual one. Of course, he could not help but let his curiosity tend to his ear's content.
Below, the humans had scrunched themselves uncomfortably together to get a clear view of the towering behemoth, the bravest getting the closest with several of the Garrison blocking them from intruding further. Rogue's ears flickered, rustling Petra a bit as he absorbed the words of every statement.
"So, it's really true then. The papers were correct."
"He must be tame, there is a soldier sitting right on his shoulder! The Rogue is not even bothered by her!"
"I wonder which of the soldiers are the two Titan Children?"
"The girl on his shoulder is a veteran Scout. She's on Levi's squad so it's not her."
"The Rogue is not even bothering anyone!"
"With this guy, the expedition should have some real results! Maybe Wall Maria will be sealed!"
"I still think this thing is a waste of time. It's got the brain of a village idiot."
At the jab, Rogue blew a small, but disgusted breath of steam. He always hated it when he was referred to as 'dumb' or a 'moron' – his name discarded and replaced by rude words. Just because he was a titan did not mean that he was stupid. Sure, some things were harder to grasp but he could damn sure understand human tongue and almost everything in the world around him.
"Look Ellie! We can see him here!"
Hearing the enthused but youthful voice, the titan's ears shifted in interest. Gradually, Rogue let his gaze drift to the sidelines to look upon two small humans that were smaller than even his little ones when he had first met them. They were a tiny boy and girl – the boy missing several teeth and the girl's dirty blonde hair was tied up in a style that Krista had fashioned his locks into at one point in time, 'pigtails' as he remembered. They were incredibly young, no older than four or five at least. Green pools blinked in awe as Rogue spotted an object in the girl's arms that made his chest flutter. It was what he had been told was a doll, a plush toy made to look like another human or in this case him. The toy was wrapped tightly in her arms, nude as he was with painted teeth, sewn on tapered ears, wild hair, and emerald button eyes. Giving in to his own intrigue, Rogue turned his head fully to meet their eyes – sparking more excitement in the two children.
"He's looking right at me." The girl spoke in shock, seemingly turning shy. "He's really looking at me!" She smiled widely, revealing a recently lost tooth.
"That's Ellie and her brother." Petra spoke into his ear. "I think that Ellie is your number one fan, Rogue."
The titan made a small grunt in reply as he proceeded to observe.
"He really is looking at you!" The child's brother announced. "Maybe he sees Roguey!"
Ellie's grin brew broader, eyes lighting up in utter excitement. The child then held up her doll for him to view. "You like my doll? My mommy made it to look like you! Thanks for saving us at Trost!"
At her sincere words of gratitude, Rogue instantly gave in to a rumbling purr and let the flesh at the corners of his mouth flex into a tender smile - the titan's eyes warm and grateful. Human young, babies like these, reminded him much of his own little ones. He liked the two; they easily accepted him with no judgment whatsoever. The titan wished that more humans could be this way.
"Look – is he, smiling?" An older woman whispered to her significant other.
"Well, his mouth is fixed into a perpetual grin, but looking at the skin at the corners of his mouth – I'd say he is." The man replied. "If I'm not mistaken, I think he's purring too."
The titan continued to keep eye contact with the two young children, taking a bit of pride and enjoyment at their expressions and reactions.
"Ellie! Look! He's smiling at you!"
The girl giggled, jumping up and down. "Yeah! He must like Roguey and me!"
Rogue blinked slowly, eyes half lidded as he grunted as if to confirm her words, watching in amusement as Ellie squealed to herself before turning his attention back to the gate before him at the sound of Erwin's booming voice.
"PREPARE TO EMBARK ON THE 57TH EXPEDITION TO RESEAL WALL MARIA! ALL TITANS CLOSE TO THE GATE HAVE BEEN LED AWAY!"
Rogue swallowed, trying to recede the lump in his chest as the heavy gate moaned at the stress of being lifted. The titan then adapted a determined look and released a breath of steam. This was it. Now was the time to put away his worries and embrace his purpose and the anticipation of the hunt.
"ONWARD!" The Commander ordered, horse rearing and letting out a bellow in triumph. Rogue observed as one by one the pack members released their own battle cries before charging forward. On his shoulder, Petra too, was projecting her own form of dominance. The titan grinned; wanting to join in, Rogue threw his head back and emitted a victorious roar – the great sound projecting across the area and provoking some to cover their ears while the sound shook shingles upon rooftops. Rogue let the roar fade into an excited rumble, witnessing his friends giggle in light of his surprising action. The titan gave a determined nod as the pack charged forward, hooves thundering across the walk. When the distance was acceptable, Rogue then trailed after them, fleetingly but keeping his gate steady and light enough so to not upset any spectators. As quickly as he could, he then ducked and shimmied through the gate, keeping Petra comfortable on her perch as he headed toward the blinding light.
Instantly, as he stepped into Maria, his memories of his long hunts and constant protection of his little ones came to him. The buildings around the closing gate looked disheveled and worn, covered in ivy and looking as if they were about to sink into the earth. It was sad to know the landscape was such a far contrast from five years prior. Rogue quickened his pace in the slightest to join the moving pack, still keeping his stride in check. His nostrils flared, the area reeked with the stench of his kin. The titan sniffed hungrily, keeping his eyes peeled as he searched for any sign of movement within the ruined structures.
A loud crash seized his attention. The beast's eyes flashed to his left to see an approaching ten-meter. It was extremely fat, belly so large that it was a wonder how the miserable looking thing wasn't falling over. Its face was frozen in frustration with its dull eyes locked onto the pack, a low growl coming from its throat. Rogue swallowed. Didn't the leader say that the titans closest to the wall had been steered away?
"Left flank prepare to engage!"
Rogue watched as two soldiers left the safety of their horse seats and began to fly through the abandoned residences. The titan swallowed, trying to resist the primal urge to slaughter the monster for even daring to get close to his little ones and his family!
"Remember, Rogue." Petra spoke into his ear. "Don't attack unless you are told."
The titan clenched his teeth. Yes, he couldn't break that law. If he charged for the creature with no order from Levi or Erwin, he was in trouble. Rogue balled his hands into fists on reflex, still glaring at the ten-meter with downright hatred. Suddenly, an idea came to him. He could still protect the pack without moving from his position or throwing a punch. Ever since he scared the three titans who were after his babies on their hunting trip four years ago, he sometimes used his bouts of dominance to keep titans out of his territory so it would still look just like it had before the wall was breached. That and he still wanted to mark what were his and only his.
Rogue let loose a slicing snarl, one that echoed among the rubble and instantly grabbed a majority of the Scouts' attention. The emerald-eyed beast hissed and let a growl ripple through his throat. His pupils turned to slits, reflecting his vicious intent.
"Rogue!" Petra yelled over his threats. "Please don't attack! You can't!"
The ten-meter had heeled in its advance, dead eyes looking at Rogue – wide and unblinking. He then roared; rattling unbroken glass and making the others look to him in fear. Seeing the dull thing flinch in the slightest, Rogue projected his rule again – carving his point to 'fuck off' into stone.
The titan growled again, watching as its moronic kin then took a step back in retreat before turning on its heel. However, it was unable to travel in the way which it came as the two pack members went in for the kill – slicing the neck of the pitiful monster and letting the thing fall like cut timber.
At his success, Rogue purred in satisfaction – chest puffing proudly. He then glanced to Petra to see that she was staring right at him in dead shock as they made their way out of the ruined settlement.
"Rogue? What – what just… how did that –
At the familiar stern voice of the Corporal and the feeling of him landing upon his shoulder, Rogue fretfully turned his head to see Levi wearing a deep and angry scowl. The titan swallowed. Perhaps he had been incorrect.
"I told you not to –
"EETT OOKKAAAEE EEEVVVII!" Rogue tried to defend before he could be scolded further. "TTEEIIITTAANN DDEEAADD NNNOOWW! EEEIII SSSCCAARREE EETT!"
"Rogue, I told you not to engage –
"Actually, you said not to attack Corporal."
Levi quieted at Petra's words, face difficult to read before the short man let out a frustrated sigh. His superior then unhooked his cables from the titan's flesh – something that Rogue was used to feeling – having been taught that other members of his pack could use him as leverage in an open field. With amazing skill, Levi left his perch and navigated his way to sit back on his horse. Rogue smiled to himself – he loved it when he outsmarted someone, especially a human like Levi.
"SPLIT FORMATION AND ASSUME YOUR POSITIONS! DISPATCH A TITAN IF IT COMES IN CONTACT WITH THE FLEET!"
His heart hammered in his chest as he watched the pack beginning to split and take off across the field. Rogue felt his nerves pull at him again, the fear of his babies' safety coursing through his mind yet again. Feeling his entire concerns surge through him, Rogue immediately looked down to where his two little ones rode. To his surprise, both Armin and Mikasa were doing the same. The two teens were both giving him encouraging smiles, Armin exchanging what humans called a 'thumbs up' a simple gesture meaning that 'all was good.'
"Good luck! Don't worry! We'll see you tonight!" Armin called up to the beast that gave a weary nod in return.
"Remember Rogue, don't do anything unless you are told! Love you and good luck!" Mikasa returned with the titan exchanging his own upward thumb.
For a long and pensive moment, Rogue watched as his little ones slowly receded until they were out of sight. Rogue swallowed, hoping that luck was on their side and that he would soon see them again. Hopefully not in body bags.
The landscape was quiet, empty without a tree in sight. A few hours had passed since the hunt had begun and the wall was no longer upon the horizon. The titan was still trailing his tiny pack at a respectable and appropriate distance. The Levi squad was alone with the others nowhere in sight – the only indications of their existence being the signals from their flares. Rogue could still feel that he was slightly on edge, concern still occupying a part of him. During the time of the small pack's travels, the titan had been glancing every so often in the direction that his babies were located in addition to his self imposed duty to look out for potential danger – monitoring the kind of signals originating from the particular region. So far, there had been little indications of titans, just a few red signals and thankfully no black ones that meant that a strange one had been sighted. Rogue sighed, releasing a breath of steam that was almost shaky. Hopefully the trend would continue.
"It seems like there hasn't been much action in the outer ranks." Gunter began as he reached for his canteen. "I haven't seen many flares go off. Wonder why."
"Perhaps it is because they are still fearful that Rogue is around." Eld replied. "Hell if I was a titan with any sort of understanding, I'd be damn sure to stay out of this area." He chuckled, giving the behemoth a joking glance. "On a serious note though, it is odd."
"Or it's just luck." Oluo grumbled. "Corporal, how much further is it to the camp?"
Levi kept his gaze ahead, still observing the sky for more signals. "It's still two hours from here. I'm not sure if we are stopping at the first depot though. There has been no word from Erwin." The Corporal replied before turning to the titan. "How are you holding up? Are you still good for a few hours?"
Although Rogue had been lightly jogging after the small pack for quite some time, he wasn't feeling much fatigue in comparison to the time he had sprinted across Wall Maria to get to Trost on the second breach. The titan quickly nodded in response, grunting his stable state as confirmation. As he usually did, Rogue turned to Petra to ask of her condition and how she herself was feeling. "OOOWWW EEETTRRAA?"
The redhead quickly turned from her observation of the landscape to the creature's questioning gaze, seemingly surprised that she had been caught admiring the scenery. "I'm good." Petra grinned, sounding a slight giggle to herself. "You know what Rogue? I never thought I'd be riding through titan territory on the shoulder of a titan. I have to say, it's a nice change in perspective."
Pleased at the comment, Rogue wiggled his ears and parted his teeth to allow his tongue to show his thanks. However, before the beast's gentle display of appreciation, the alarming scent of a strange one seeped through his nostrils. With a hitched breath of alarm, Rogue turned his head to see a fast and awkwardly moving fourteen-meter with a false smile etched onto its face coming up quickly behind the small party. Petra then stood from her seat and began to unsheathe her swords.
"Corporal! There is a fourteen-meter abnormal coming up quickly from behind - umph!" She relayed, being cut short on her warning as Rogue suddenly placed her behind the protection of his ears – green eyes hooked upon the approaching target. It was moving too fast – sprinting oddly with its arms cradled around itself like a human sitting in the cold.
"Alright, prepare to anchor and –
However, Levi was cut short by the titan's sudden decision to turn on his heel and charge straight for his opponent. Rogue roared, wild eyes narrowed in sheer determination to see smeared red juices. The Commander did say to dispose of any titan that came near the ranks. So the unwanted trash had to be taken out.
"Rogue!" Petra called out, nails nearly digging into his flesh, but he paid no head. With incredible swiftness like he had never possessed before, Rogue threw himself forward, bringing his fist into a vicious right hook. The megalith hit his mark; knuckles hammering with such force that the abnormal titan's face was torn off. The monster's hot crimson painted the green canvas below, fragments of cartilage, muscle, bone, and even the thing's dead eyes that were severed from their sockets flew through the atmosphere before settling upon the earth. Rogue roared in sheer triumph, experiencing an unexpected surge of pleasure coursing throughout his frame – a feeling that he missed from hunting his own kind. Unbridled greens observed the opposing titan stagger slightly, somehow managing to stay on its own two feet. The fourteen meter surprisingly roared in return, a dull sound accompanied by the monster's own state of choking on its own blood. Rogue's only response to the pitiful attempt to threaten was another hit, a brutal uppercut to the abomination's jaw – dethatching the damaged head and sending brain tissue and the ruined skull several meters away. As the titan began to fall forward, Rogue repositioned himself and sunk his teeth into the nape. Skin was punctured and muscles were torn as Rogue clamped his jaw even tighter in his vice grip. The taste of hot iron filled his mouth as gore spurted from the wound. Unexpectedly, a bit of curiosity came to the titan, remembering Hange's words about his diet possibly and supposedly being titans themselves, Rogue sucked a little bit. Blood glided across his tongue and poured down his throat. The taste was something that perplexed him – he focused on flavor, something that he had never done on any of his hunts; the titan determining that it was actually not bad. Still, it wasn't great by any means and something he didn't want to treat himself with. Deciding that it was enough, Rogue then tore the nape free and spit the hunk of meat aside before letting the body drop to the earth. With manners in play, he reached up to wipe his mouth before placing a rattled Petra to his shoulder.
"UUU OOOKKAAEE EETRRAA?" He queried softly, eyes leaving their feral state and returning to ones filled with innocence and concern. Rogue watched as Petra slowly took her seat back onto his shoulder, trying to snap herself out of shock.
"I'm… alright Rogue. Thanks for taking care of the titan."
The flesh at the corners of his mouth pulled into a grin, but before he could express anything further, Rogue's eyes caught the sight of stopped steeds and one furious Levi down at his feet – finger pointing to accuse. The titan's brows knitted together, he didn't do anything wrong. So why was Levi mad?
"ROGUE JAEGER!" Levi yelled up to the towering humanoid – the very scene of the short human shouting at a confused fifteen-meter titan looking like something from a joke. "YOUR STUPID ASS WAS TOLD NOT TO DISOBEY ORDERS! GIVING IN TO YOUR DESIRES IS NOT SOMETHING TO BE TOLERATED! THAT WAS A RECKLESS AND DANGEROUS MOVE! WHY DID YOU DISOBEY!"
The titan grumbled softly in aggravation. Had Levi really forgotten or was the small human incredibly concerned for him? Rogue breathed a long sigh before kneeling down to be more interactive. "EEVVII… EEERRIIINN SSSAAAIIDDD KKKIIILL IITTTAANNSS EEFFF COOSSEEE OORR EENNN OORRNNNAATTIONN." The creature corrected with several hand gestures signifying the Commander.
At his words, Levi then changed his tune, face relaxing in the slightest and turning from red to its usual pale tint. The man then huffed a sharp breath and pinched the bridge of his nose – a move that Rogue had often seen the Corporal do when irritated. "Fucking damn it." Levi muttered beneath his breath, making Rogue nearly crack a laugh. Being able to read the minuscule man so deeply, the titan could easily tell that Levi was consumed with concern over he himself breaking any rules. It was a thing that the titan found funny as well as his little ones, Hange, and Petra. Each knew that Levi had a hard outer shell and an ever more bitter filling – but there was a hint that was sweet in the small morsel. Levi would never show or admit how much he looked out for the titan. Never. It was evident that the Corporal was extra scrupulous over his actions in light of what could happen if he disobeyed or fucked up. "Well, at least report what you're doing before taking action. Because of you being- well you, and considering this is your first expedition as a Scout, I might not be able to tell your intentions."
Rogue nodded slowly, only understanding part of what Levi had told him. However, judging by the level of seriousness laced within his human tongue, it most likely wasn't positive. Of course – he probably should have warned his pack that he was going to execute a move. Before the titan could make any sort of apology for his negligence of announcing his plans, the sound of approaching hooves ended the current exchange. The titan looked up with his small pack following to see the short blond, Nanaba, approaching. Rogue naturally tilted his head, recalling Levi's verbal information about the procedures of the formation – how a few volunteer pack members would split from each of their tiny parties to spread messages in their ranks. With the veteran being here, it meant that she had something important to disclose. Rogue swallowed, hopefully it was nothing bad.
Nanaba slowed her horse to position herself next to Levi. For a moment, she was silent as she stared at the still steaming titan corpse scattered around the circumference of the area before turning back to the waiting corporal, pointing at the slaughter before her. "What happened? Did a titan breech the rank?"
Levi remained unspoken for a moment, stare still cold as he climber back to his horse seat. "Yes, an abnormal charged right for us. Rogue took care of it before it was on top of us." The man softened a bit, allowing Rogue to get a small smile in play. "However, what's your business here Nanaba? Directions from Commander Erwin?" He paused for a moment, blinking in thought. "Does he have any theories as to why it's rather quiet out here?"
"As far as the lack of titans is concerned, there are no solid leads. Although this area is still considerably far from Rogue's previous territory, our titan did at one point travel through here to hunt at Wall Rose and the enemy is weary because of that reason. I mean, the ten-meter earlier seemed pretty fearful of him as soon as it knew Rogue was with us. Now, as far as my message is concerned, Erwin is ordering all of the ranks to converge at depot seven."
The corporal folded his arms, Eld and Gunter looking to one another in question all the while Oluo mirrored Levi's reaction. "Meeting there?" Gunter asked in disbelief. It's a bit early to restock isn't it?"
Nanaba dipped her head in agreement. "Yes, but that is not why we're meeting up. The right outer flank came upon the village and storehouse a little while ago during their course. They found something suspicious."
"Suspicious?" Levi queried sternly. "Why is that?"
The blonde wasted no time to dither. "They can't make out much, but they did say that Mike and Rogue may be able to turn up some clues. If Section Commander Zukarious can't get a trace then Rogue certainly can. Right now though, they are not sure what to make of the situation."
The Corporal then rerouted his horse, turning to address the others. "We regroup at number seven."
As they started in the new direction, Rogue stood to follow. The sinking feeling was settling into his gut again. What was so serious that the pack had to temporarily abandon their current trail and make for a new destination – one that they needed his help at? The titan continued to jog with his pack, thinking of what had happened and what was underway. Another troubling thought hit his nerves. In light of the strange one appearing out of nowhere to ambush them from behind, just how likely was something similar in nature to happen where his little ones were located. He had seen Scout members try to take down strange ones in the past on his hunts and even though they had tremendous skill – there was still casualties. He knew that Armin and Mikasa could likely kill a normal titan, but could his babies stand up to a strange one and their unpredictability? Truthfully, he wasn't sure.
The sun was beginning to lower from its high point in the sky as the titan's small pack arrived in a trivial town, abandoned like all the others, and on the edge of a wide prairie. Its human structures were crafted from brick, worn but in surprisingly good shape. At one time, it had likely been a peaceful and cheerful town full of gardens and flowerbeds. Now however, the vegetables and herbs had been replaced by aggressive weeds while wagons with missing parts were left to rot. Rogue remembered the small village to some extent. The last time he had stepped foot in the town was four years ago when he was searching for food and supplies to feed and nourish his little ones – having to travel further than he wanted from the cove at the time since finding human food was difficult. This was right before he had begun to apparently steal from his pack's stashes. Since then, he only threaded through once just to nail a three-meter – after that he never felt the need to return.
Rogue hurriedly bent down to let Petra off his broad shoulder, almost impatiently waiting as her feet touched the patches of grass while he looked around the scenery of the town for his little ones. Once Petra was free from his embrace, the titan hurriedly stood and sniffed, nose hungry for the two familiar smells that he knew best. Green eyes flashed left and right, examining all of the soldiers that were coming into the small village and dismounting their horses. Rogue whined slightly as he sniffed again – catching their scent and provoking him to smile. However, the fact that the pack would sometimes carry the bodies of the dead with them sent his grin else ware and manifested a sickening feeling in his stomach. Surely that wasn't the case! With his nerves swarming like bees yet again, Rogue quickly but carefully walked to the scents' source only to find that his worries had been for not and his precious beings were tying their horses against an old wooden pole. As he usually did in a relieved greeting, Rogue gave a delighted bleep that instantly captured both Armin and Mikasa's attention. As always, the two looked up into his greens with smiles decorating their faces.
"Hey Rogue, how was your –
Armin however was cut off as Rogue hurriedly bent over and expressed his gladness with an abrupt lap of his tongue. The titan then repeated the same notion with Mikasa before giving the two one more lick for good measure. Rogue then purred, nuzzling his face into the teens' small bodies.
"Three hours and three years is no difference to you is it Rogue?" Mikasa sighed, her words used in a teasing manner. The titan simply gave a pleased little growl.
"AAAPPPYYY AAAIIBBIIESS SSAAFEE."
"Yup, and all the new recruits are as well." Armin informed with several of the other small humans coming from their tending of their equines. Again, the creature purred elatedly and greeted the others with several cheerful grunts.
"Well someone looks overjoyed!" Sasha announced. "Happy to see us?"
Rogue nodded, deciding that he should share his enthusiasm with the others by quickly brushing his nose against them as well, nearly knocking Krista over. However, when it came to Jean, the titan teasingly snorted a small puff of steam into the teen's face before returning to his little ones.
"Ugh, I bet you hoped I would be titan fodder didn't you?" Jean grumbled with Rogue only snickering. True, Jean wasn't his favorite person by any means, but he didn't want to lose him either. He liked picking on him too much.
"Well, did you manage to see any titans near you at all Rogue?" Armin queried as he finally tethered his horse. "We didn't see any sneak into our rank."
Rogue dithered slightly, trying to decide if it was best to tell them – but then he realized that his two possessions would hear it from their superiors sooner or later. "ESSS. OOONN SSTTRRAAANNEE OOONN."
The two teens nodded, familiar with how the titan called abnormals. "Well that's –
"I hate to break up the family reunion but Rogue, I need you along with Arlert and Ackerman to follow me."
The titan turned to see Levi folding his arms in wait. In compliance, Rogue nodded and gently picked up the two teens in his open palm before trailing after the short statured man. The three kept quiet, simply looking down at the Corporal as they navigated among the soldiers and buildings. He began to think back to his current purpose. What exactly was going on? Why were they here? The creature thought harder, recalling things he knew about the area. Something was odd. Titans were usually all over areas that he didn't claim as his. Why were they not roaming the surrounding landscape? Was it possible that they could have migrated to another area? Could that be his territory or possibly another forest? Maybe they had just returned to the gate, waiting for more humans to leave it like a dispenser. Whatever it was, even he couldn't pinpoint it. It was just off – like whatever the flying humans were currently interested in. Rogue swallowed, a shutter running down his spine. Usually when something was out of place or felt strange to him, something unfortunate was on the rise.
Hopefully, this instance was just a fluke.
Soon, the open village began to merge with the thicket; trees nestled within the brick structures. The area was more overgrown than the other; vines suffocated previous homes and even small timbers sprouted from the floorboards of human residences. Overall, it was lonely and depressing like every town, a ghostly shell of its former glory. Up ahead stood the big leader, Hange, Mike, and a few of the other veteran members. Rogue raised a brow in intrigue. The figures were positioned around a collection of rubble. Bricks were scattered, wood was snapped, and colored glass littered the circumference. Upon first glance, it just looked like an insignificant pile of unwanted pieces, but recalling memories, the hunk of junk was actually the remains of the pack's depot. Rogue blinked, what was going on?
"So this is why we're here then?" Levi began as he placed himself next to Erwin, arms characteristically folding in dissatisfaction yet again. "What do we know?" The Corporal continued as Rogue returned his little ones to the ground and seated himself to overlook the group – waiting on any command to aid.
Erwin left out a pensive breath. "Not much. Molbit, did you see anything when you got here? You were the first to discover this."
"Nothing out of the ordinary as far as anything living, Commander. But we were able to rule out that a storm didn't knock this depot over. The trees surrounding it would have fallen. If it were Mother Nature's doing, there would be trees lying atop the rubble. We don't think it was foundation issues either."
"So this could be a titan related incident then?" Mike spoke, taking a step into the rubble. Hange rubbed her chin.
"It doesn't make much sense that a titan could be responsible. Besides Rogue, titans don't mess with objects or human structures unless people are inside." Hange added as Mike continued to look around. "Then again, this store house was an old church that was built nearly ninety years ago. It was one of the oldest in the area so perhaps the strain of titan footsteps caused it to collapse."
"I don't think that's likely" Armin began, sounding shy to intervene. "It was made of brick, even with vibrations caused by titans, it would be too sturdy. I mean, when Rogue walks right next to buildings here – the only things that shake are the windows and shingles, everything else is fairly sound."
"Three months ago this place was still standing." Levi muttered. "Mike –
"Did we have this depot stocked with nets and cables or was it number eight?" The whiskered man interrupted, looking at Erwin from beneath his bangs.
The tall blonde hesitated, clearly thinking. "I'm certain that both were stocked in light of our capture missions. Why do you ask?"
"Because I don't see them here among the debris. Of course they could just be under something." Mike replied seriously with the others looking to Erwin for a theory or response.
The Commander rubbed his clean-shaven chin. "True. It's either that or they were moved to number eight. In mists of the chaos, they could have been added by an unsuspecting rookie to the shipment that was moved to eight."
Rogue kept quiet, watching as Erwin suddenly turned to Mike, brows knitting together in a mixture of seriousness and question. "Can you smell anything?"
The small crowd watched as the tall flying human began to scrutinize, nostrils flaring in the slightest as the man attempted to pick up any precious scent. Mike instinctively rubbed his nose, sniffing strongly before crossing his arms and staring at the rubble in difficulty. "Whatever happened occurred quite a while ago. Perhaps a month. I can't make out any older scents from that time frame. All I can make out is just the various animals that came through here in the last few days. There's no telling if rain washed away anything from before either."
The Corporal dipped his head in understanding, a small and barley visible nod that appeared strict. "Well then time for plan B." Levi spoke nonchalantly as he looked back to the awaiting titan. "Jaeger?"
Understanding what Levi was asking from him, Rogue dipped his head and lifted himself slightly from his seat. Settling himself onto his knees and bending over much like a tracking hound, Rogue hovered his nose over the ruble. The creature then sniffed aggressively, breath echoing among the tiny clearing. With another deep breath, Rogue's keen sense of smell began to pick up on something that Mike had been unable to retrieve. Needing to go a little deeper, Rogue pressed his hungry nose into the mixture of bricks and pieces – looking a bit like a rooting pig going through slop as he angled his head and snout through the remains. The titan's eyes narrowed at a spot in the middle of the wrecked foundation, sticking his nose in further.
"Do you – have something Rogue?" Hange asked, the titan not paying too much attention with his focus purely on the buried scent.
Needing to go even deeper, like a dog, Rogue lifted a hand and dug deeply into the rubble and with little effort shoved it out of the way. The titan then stuck his head in the small basin yet again, the scent hitting him full blast. Rogue went rigid, hair upon his scalp standing on end. The scent was definitely titan, but like the day's occurrences, it was unquestionably strange. Cautiously, he sniffed again, reflexively snorting. Although the scent was, in truth, faint from time, there was something about the smell that struck a nerve. Rogue grunted in slight irritation. For some reason that he couldn't place, it pulled at him. It almost felt – haunting.
It was just weird. It made him feel irregular.
"What is it?"
Hearing the Corporal's demand, Rogue tore himself from the scent and turned to face the man and his other superiors along with his babies. "SSNNEEELL IIKKKEE TTIITTAANN." Rogue informed, brow wrinkling in confusion. "SSEENNTT RROOMM… SSTTRRAANNGGEE TTIITTAANNNN."
"You mean – like an abnormal?" Hange asked him, eyes growing wider behind her glasses.
Rogue looked to the folds of skin on his palms. Indeed, it was odd like a strange one, yet there was something just different about it. "UUHHH… IITT UUSSTT EEIIRRRDD."
"Is it a 'strange one' then?"
The titan dithered a bit longer, snorting to get the dust out of his nose. "EHHH… EEIII GGUUESSS. IITT NNOOTT NNORRRNNAALL."
"Hmm, so it was a titan then." Erwin began, face still remaining stern and eyes glued to the wrecked depot.
"Maybe we're just overthinking things. A dumbass titan was probably walking with an irregular gate and fucking fell into the storehouse." Levi nonchalantly suggested, tone cold as usual.
"I think that's what happened." Mike supported. If what Rogue smelled was a scent mark it would certainly be stronger and in more areas around here." The whiskered man continued with the titan nodding in agreement.
Yes, like the Corporal had said, he had to be over-analyzing things. A titan had probably just fallen into the storehouse. Nothing more nothing less. Rogue then snorted again in attempt to rid the troublesome particles from his nose. However, before he could take another breath to try again, an overwhelming state of alarm raced across his spine, blood running cold. Rogue's pupils shrank, brows arching as his hair stood up again. The titan's heart hammered, ears becoming erect in alert. Unfortunately, there was a reason for the day's strange occurrences. Rogue sniffed, nostrils flaring wide and in sheer disgust. No! This couldn't be!
"Are we still set to get supplies from number eight then?"
"Yes we should be there by –
Rogue quickly began to get to his feet, low branches snapping and breaking around the group. Levi's steel eyes flashed to the titan, both aggravation and fury clear in his face.
"Rogue what –
"EEEVVVII! TTTIITTAANNSS!" Rogue breathed rapidly, temper beginning to boil.
"He's right." Mike hurriedly supported. "There's a hoard coming. At least twenty, maybe more."
Rogue swallowed. There was more than that. Thirty at the most. A chorus of screams then filed the air, heavy footsteps mixing within the close chaos. His heart lifted into his chest, fear settling into his gut – but there was also the primal instinct to protect spreading throughout his frame. The very same that he had always felt when in titan territory with his little ones. It was one that commanded him to defend and attack. Even as the pack leaders were shouting, Rogue's eyes began to light with flaming green. How dare these vile monstrosities come near his family – especially with him around!
"Arlert. Ackerman. The two of you go forth into the village. Exterminate any titan that has already breached into the town and rescue any able soldier you see."
Rogue watched in befuddlement as the two teens saluted to the Corporal's request and quickly flew into the direction of the impending battle. His green eyes followed them fearfully. He – had been separated from them? The entire pack was together at the moment instead of being strung out in the formation. Why were they not fighting as one?
"Jaeger." Levi spoke sharply as he prepared a set of blades. "Your job is to eliminate all of the incoming titans. Since we're on a damn field for the most part and we're forced to stick to the buildings and trees, that's your job. As you know, not everyone can anchor you at one time, and with this many titans it's nearly impossible for a single person to cover you."
"EEEVVII… IIITTLLEEE OONNSS SSTTEEII –
"No Rogue. They are needed elsewhere!" The small leader yelled at him, making the titan instantly regret his declaration. "You're the spear and shield here! Do your fucking job! That's an order!" Levi concluded venomously as he quickly left the earth and soared through the trees as nothing but a blur.
Without a moment to waste, Rogue lifted himself fully and charged forward. He understood what Levi meant. Slaughtering the incoming titans would reduce the numbers that the rest of the pack had to deal with. The creature swallowed with dread. As much as he hated the way things had been declared and sat into stone, he was given an order. He couldn't break that solid decree.
Rogue moved through the thin thicket, crushing what was left of ruined human homes beneath his feet before bursting into the wide clearing. However, the sight before him forced the titan to halt at the tree line. As he had predicted, there was clearly over thirty. At least a dozen were weaving in and out of the buildings in search for morsels to satisfy their empty gullets. Sadly, just as the fight had begin, there was already blood shed as the result of the ambush. Rogue's dark rimmed eyes widened as he watched a soldier get bit in half, organs and crimson decorating the shabby shingles and weedy path. The image instantly brought back the horrid memory of his poor helpless Carla – a thought that forced a distressed whine to vibrate in his chest. At the idea, instinctively, the behemoth searched for the familiar shapes of his little ones, hoping that they had not fallen. To his good fortune, Armin and Mikasa were perched upon a high roof that overlooked the playing field, talking strategy with the other teens. He nodded to himself in a pitiful attempt to encourage his state of mind. He had to keep the other titans away. He had an order.
The titan then turned away to initiate his own hunt, spotting a member of his kin emerging from the thicket – an ignorant looking fourteen-meter equipped with a manic grin. Rogue then roared, charging forward with a raised fist. Just as the beast turned to look at the green-eyed titan, Rogue's knuckles plowed through the monster's head. With the sickening sound of collapsing bone ringing through his ears, the fourteen-meter's head flew into a large tree in a pulpy goo with steamy blood spraying several meters. Before the fourteen-meter's mass could fall, Rogue plunged his nails trough the nape. With a forceful tug, the beast pulled the spine free and tossed it aside with no further appreciation of the bloody but beautiful sight. He had an order. He had to move on! He had to protect!
He had to win.
Rogue then turned to another fifteen meter that had snuck past him with its beady eyes set onto its tiny targets. Instinctively, he bellowed, grabbing the other titan's foggy and glazed over stare. Unexpectedly, it took a step towards him, a sight that was a rare one to Rogue. On his hunts, very few titans ever bothered to try and fight him or approach him. The others likely warded away by his radiating anger. Back when he was hunting solo, he admittedly found these kinds of titans interesting. Sure, they were strange ones but Rogue had unearthed that there were two significantly different types of abnormals. Firstly, there were the really strange titans that behaved so drastically different and moved so fucking outlandishly that he sometimes questioned their existence. Then there were other strange ones that would act completely normal one minute and then they would do something very eccentric the next. These titans sometimes even charged at him with the only intent being just to knock him over. Although he found them to be a joy to kill, their presence in the town with his pack was something that planted fear into Rogue yet again.
As he expected, the strange one jogged toward him. Quickly, he knocked the creature's head to the side so violently that the titan's mass crumpled to the ground. Rogue watched as the body tried to lift itself from his crippled position, head hanging awkwardly to one side with the creature moaning in agony. He then planted his foot firmly onto the nape, bone cracking like an eggshell beneath his weight. To his dismay, before he could look up, another large titan barreled into him, nearly knocking him to the earth. Rogue struggled to get his balance, eyes still trying to keep the creature in sight – seeing that it was hooked onto the collection of humans and didn't classify as an abnormal. Hurriedly, he dispatched the plump thing and tried to move on, seeing another titan swipe a grounded soldier who was still adjusting their gear and toss them to the back of its throat. Rogue's green eyes widened as he found himself listening to the chaos. Part of him was saying to charge forward and grab his little ones and as many as he could into his custody while the other part of him said to simply follow the order he was given or he was to be punished. He was conflicted.
His worries began to flood him again, sweeping around him and trying to pull him under. His focus was beginning to shift in the direction of putting both his two babies in his hold so they could at least be with him. There was so many of his kin, his little ones were just two small humans in the middle of the fray. With the number of titans around, could they really go up against them and survive?
As panic began to settle in, another titan approached his position. Consumed by the need to check in on his little ones, Rogue found himself torn between fighting and trying to spot their two familiar forms. Feeling a titan charge into him during its lust for human meat, Rogue quickly spun and threw a fist – missing completely as he tripped and crashed to the ground. Hurriedly, he turned and grabbed the creature by the ankles, concerned greens veering to the nest of buildings in search for the whereabouts of his little ones. Rogue let out another whine. He couldn't see them! Where were they! Quickly, the titan pulled the monster he had in his clutches to the ground – pouncing on it like a hunting cat. To hurriedly finish the job, Rogue plunged his teeth into the nape – taking no time to taste the flavor of blood. He then stood again, preparing to call out to his adopted young. Unfortunately, his neglect caused a twelve-meter to race past him. Rogue snapped, swearing to himself as he reached out and grabbed the titan by the shoulder before shoving it to the ground. Again, the gentle giant looked up in search, his nerves causing his awareness to fade, the twelve meter sneaking away and charging into the town.
Suddenly, Rogue felt a familiar weight on his shoulder, bringing him out of his visual search. He turned to see Levi looking at him furiously, face red like the day that he kept picking on him. The man was not enthused.
"Get your fucking head out of your ass!" He yelled. "You let five titans into the village!"
Rogue felt his breath hitch. He had done such a thing?
"They are fine! Do what you've been told!" Levi parted, flying off to slice the nape of the titan that had slipped from his clutches.
Rogue's jaw trembled, teeth clacking together as he shuttered. How could they be fine! He couldn't see them! With worry taking over reason, green eyes continued to search, having been reduced to the essence of mother looking desperately for her offspring. Suddenly, his wild pupils captured a glimpse of sailing red. Rogue quickly trailed the color to find Mikasa artfully flying among the sea of chaos. He watched as the dark haired teen swooped like a bird after her prey, blades drawn and nose wrinkled in a slight snarl. Before he could blink, she made her move – cutting into the weak point of a lumbering fourteen-meter that fell instantly from her wrath. Rogue's ears pricked forward as he watched her circle with tremendous speed, eyes making their careful selection for her next victim. It was then that he also spotted Armin weaving between buildings. Rogue watched as the sun haired boy skillfully severed a titan's hand and caught a small statured recruit. As the blonde flew away with cargo in tow, Mikasa dived and carved the venerable flesh of the very titan that had the helpless human in its grasp before. He watched as the monster turned into a lifeless lump of meat, bodily fumes leaking into the air while his little ones moved on to their next target.
They – were strong. He knew they had skill, but before he had never seen them take down one of his kin let alone many. Seeing their work, a heavy boulder seemed to have lifted from his shoulders. Yes, they were trained to perfection, talented, as his friends had told him. A small smile tugged at his skin. They were capable of surviving – they were deadly just as he was. In truth, the feeling was bittersweet knowing that his little ones could hold their own – he liked bracing them close and behind him as he lashed out. Of course, he loved the fact that they could fight with him. Fight for each other. Determination swept through his bloodstream, burning with hot passion. He had their backs. He had to reduce the numbers to make their job easier. He had an order.
It was time to hunt.
Renewed and rejuvenated, Rogue threw his head back and announced his white hot fury with a vengeful howl – the landscape rattling and nearly falling silent in the cry's wake. Others looked to the green-eyed titan as he began to adapt a sense of savageness. His breath grew heavy, steam billowing from his nostrils, teeth, and small pores as his emerald eyes transformed into a feral glow. Rogue's heart thundered, brows narrowed, and his tapered ears folded back as he let a vicious snarl rip through his esophagus. Giving in to the primal need to conquer his prey, Rogue roared and lunged forward in a dead sprint. No titan would get past him. He would make sure of that.
He threw his knuckles forward again, clenched hand obliterating the face of a ten-meter. With sprinkled crimson and fragments of cartilage scattering, the monster twisted and exposed its bare nape to predator of the game. Roaring his battle cry, Rogue grasped the tender spine, the sound of tearing flesh causing a sickening hush to fall over many. The hunter grinned at his work, eyes glowing bright and in glee as his pupils gazed upon the gorgeous red. Rogue thirsted for more of it. He then motioned for a crawling five meter, simply punting it into an unsuspecting titan. The fifteen-meter charged for the two, swiftly crushing the small monster and kneeing the taller one just below the ribs. The eleven-meter screeched, bowing forward in agony as its stomach was punctured by Rogue's knee. With the window open, Rogue dug his nails at the base of the titans skull and began to pull. He watched in amusement as flesh broke, exposing muscle as he continued. Tendons snapped, fraying like strands of worn rope as blood splatted his chest and face. With a final yank, Rogue tore the head free and tossed it aside before throwing the eleven-meter's carcass into a group of small three and four meter titans – flattening the succorless cluster. Rogue let loose a growl again, green eyes angrily watching as one of the small titans struggled to stand, one of its legs still trapped beneath the steaming bodies. Without another second to waste, the megalith reached down and encased the three-meter in hand. With a loud snarl, Rogue lifted the small titan to his mouth and bit down on its upper half. With a smooth shift of his head, the titan ripped the other in half similar to the way one would strip tough chicken from bone. Although he contemplated swallowing to experiment with the meat, he decided that he would rather not be incapacitated later and simply spit the head and torso to the ground in distaste. Rogue then bellowed another invitation, blood and steam spraying from his maw. He would kill them all! No one was going to eat his babies or his family! If they wanted to attempt getting their greedy hands on them, they would have to go through him first.
They would have to face his fury!
Rogue moved onward to face the titans in the clearing surrounding the human village. By now, his invitation was received and the incoming party of titans were accepting his challenge. He smirked, ready to use the new skills that he had acquired from Levi – ones that where called 'mixed martial arts' and other dirty moves that the Corporal had formulated when living and surviving in the underground. The great titan roared again, ready to put his new skills to the test.
His first target then ran straight for him, provoking the predator to get into a prepped position, his signature stance with fists before him. Once again, he threw a powerful and devastating punch, knocking a thirteen-meter's jaw clean off. However, before he could pursue the dazed titan, another grabbed his right arm, holding it in a near bone-breaking grip. Before the titan could think to do anything else, Rogue lifted his leg and kicked out the twelve meter's shin. The monster hunched over, spine arched crookedly as Rogue raised his arm high and brought down his elbow upon the naked nape – caving in the vital area beneath the exerted force. The titan's ears flickered to alert him to his next foe, a hulking fifteen-meter with a limp. Quickly, Rogue pivoted on his heel and threw an uppercut that landed beneath the chin. For a moment, he watched in awe as the head ascended toward the heavens, crimson raining upon his tan skin, soaking it red. Oh how he relished in the feeling! The scent was sweet, the vibrant hue glistening in the sun like the rivers he loved to watch.
He wanted more.
He wanted to protect.
He wanted to kill.
Another titan stumbled into his frame like a drunk in the streets. Rogue wrestled the creature into position, the abomination looking as if it were kneeling to a god. The titan threw his head back to preach a loud roar before unhinging his jaw and encasing his teeth around the monster's neck. Blood poured into his mouth – the taste hot and boiling but like nectar. Innately, Rogue found himself suckling on the red liquid again. Though it was not preferred, it was like the physical form of revenge. The warmth pooled into his stomach, feeling good for once but signaling him to stop his thirst and finish the vile monstrosity off by ripping out the nape and spitting it to the ground. Hopefully it would evaporate and not haunt him later.
With blood dripping from his well-shaped chin, Rogue got himself ready again. Practiced eyes scanned and scrutinized his enemy as they made their approach. Three were challenging fate; coming quickly while the others still crept toward him at a shelled lizard's pace. Once more, he launched himself forward with a roar and burst of speed. His fist planted itself past a ten-meter's ribcage before curving through muscle as he launched the titan into the air only for the creature to crash into the ground. Rogue then lifted his large clawed foot and brought it down into the titan's face. Blood and brain matter exploded in a ring while the nape was crushed beneath his heel. With his prey down, he spun to face his next victim. A ghoulish smirk painted itself onto his determined and terrifying façade, seeing that he had the perfect opportunity to try out one of his new moves. Before the twelve-meter could pounce, Rogue leaned and threw his leg forward. To his good fortune, his foot hit the titan on its mark – sending the beast crashing into the ground with the severed head and nape snapped and smeared. He nearly purred at his achievement. He didn't loose his balance and his prey was history. Before he could advance to the incoming fourteen meter, another titan akin to his size snuck up from his rear.
'FUCKER! I… WILL… KILL YOU!'
Rogue abruptly grabbed the titan's long and lanky arm, pulling the abomination into an inescapable hold around its neck. With great strength, the green eyed titan threw his opponent into the grassy earth before pulling the nape free in his palm. Steaming blood dripped like candle wax down his grasping fingers, the meat sizzling as the evaporating began. With the goal to protect in mind, Rogue flung the tattered flesh into the fourteen-meter's face. His ears flickered in pleasure as the titan screamed, sounding like a sweet melody as the burning crimson began to scorch the monster's corneas. While the creature was too busy screaming to itself, Rogue ran forward and with a powerful thrust launched himself into the air. Dirt and blades of grass flew as he bent his knees and angled his body into perfect position. Right in way, Rogue then devastatingly planted his feet against the titan, one on the pelvis and the other on the chest. He pushed, forcing the fourteen-meter back to earth. A crater formed from the great impact, ground vibrating the village and Scouts. Just as the titan tried to wiggle from beneath, Rogue quickly lifted his foot and crusted the vital region – taking pride as life's juices bubbled beneath his toes. He nearly hummed in delight. However he kept the action at bay for he had an order. A declaration to defend and hunt.
He studied the scene again, there were four close and at least ten more coming slowly in. His nose wrinkled in both rage and frustration. Why couldn't the creatures just go back to the hell in which they came! A low, guttural, but weak roar projected from the throat of charging fourteen meter. Rogue let his fist fly, hitting the titan's head and shaving the top part off – taking pride in the level of gore as its brain tumbled to the earth with its body. He simply planted his heel on the neck to finish it, finally kicking its steaming corpse away to keep his uncaged arena free of obstruction. The green-eyed titan then turned, feral greens glowing brighter in favor of the red stained field. His nictitating membranes slipped over his eyes for the steam from the dead was strong. This wasn't good. Although he could see through the opaque atmosphere, his little ones and pack could not. He had to punish and slaughter his enemy quickly. There was no time to waste.
Suddenly, a heavy weight fell upon Rogue, causing him to nearly tip over. From the corner of his black ringed eyes, the teeth of a ten-meter abnormal was trying to bite his face off, most likely angry that he was in the way of the thing's next meal. Rogue let out a bellow in displeasure and arched his elbow, hitting the titan square in the face. The earth thundered as it crashed. With the titan's throat open and vulnerable, Rogue ginned, watching its thyroid bob as it tried to make a sound of agony and shock. Set on protecting his family from the monster's jaws, Rogue bent over and sank his teeth into the tender flesh – tearing out the titan's throat. Blood coated his face, hair plastered together by rapidly evaporating crimson. Greatly entertained, he sunk his teeth further into the open gash, red forming a lake beneath the two supersize beings. With a final bite, Rogue ripped the nape free from his unworthy opponent. Then, two large titans were at his side, screeching stupidly. Quickly, he spun, hooking both their forms beneath his muscular arms. Incorporating a move that Levi had shown him, Rogue snaked his hands up to the monsters' napes. With a powerful thrust, Rogue hoisted the two off their feet and slammed their faces into the earth – skulls cracking like melons. His fingers then encased the flesh, the doomed titans' napes freed as Rogue tore them from their homes – blood flying in all directions. The great titan then stood upright and tilted his head back to release another booming roar so loud that it sounded as if it could be heard by the humans in Katness.
' THEY…ARE…MINE! MINE!'
Rogue's echoing howl then reduced itself into manic snarl with his back arched and hair nearly standing straight. Burning emeralds then fell onto the rest of the incoming enemy. However, before he could charge headfirst into the impending brawl, the titans had stopped and begun to go back which they came. Rogue kept his threatening stance as the beasts moved in what appeared to be nervous hesitation, looking back with unblinking eyes over their shoulders before walking away unwillingly. A sense of triumph washed over him as they grew further away, a cunning smirk wiping itself across his face. They were foolish and ignorant to think that they would feast on his family and babies with him in their midst! In the end, they wouldn't challenge his anger.
After a final snort in disapproval, Rogue welcomed back his need to nurture in open arms. The titan then turned to the village, unshielding his eyes for the steam had dissipated. Seeing the sight of splattered blood and a few severed minuscule limbs, Rogue's heart began to pound in panic. Desperate, he whined loudly, calling for his little ones and his new found allies. Surely –
"We're right here Rogue!"
Hearing Armin's familiar voice, the titan turned to see the teen with his other baby perched on a nearby tower. To his relief, on the rooftop below was the rest of his family – his closest allies unharmed. With great relief, Rogue rumbled his likeness and held out his open palms for his little ones to leave their perch with no strain. Once they were secure, he cradled them in his hands and nuzzled them lovingly.
"AAAAPPYY SSSAAFE." He purred. "ARRRNNIINN NNIIKKAASSAA IIGGHHTT GGOOD!" Rogue beamed as he protectively cradled them close to his chest. He was so proud of them!
"Thank you Rogue." Mikasa smiled softly up at him. "And thanks for keeping the titans at bay."
He nodded, trilling in glee.
"A little sloppy at first, but he came through." Hange spoke as she teasingly elbowed Levi who simply stood with his face as disinterested as usual. "Right Levi? It was amazing how the titans just ran from him at the end!"
The short man only pulled himself from her, letting his signature 'tsk' slip from his lips. Rogue found his smile sinking in the slightest. Hopefully Levi wasn't to chide him later.
"Now that the titans have retreated we need to move." The Commander began. "We don't know how soon they will be back so we depart immediately. We must reach depot number eight by nightfall. We will camp there till morning. Move out."
Rogue then began to trail the pack as they got into formation again, leaving the village as discreetly and as quickly as they could – completely missing the pair of glowing blue eyes watching them from a distance.
The sky stained itself onyx once again, bringing forth the common sights of the night. Crickets chirped, fireflies sent their messages, and bats feasted on insects high above the canopy. The pack had settled eagerly in their current campsite – another old mill with a running stream deep in a forest similar to his own. Long ago, before the breach, Petra had told him that the mill was used not for washing clothes but rather used to make their garbs from this thing she had called 'cotton'. Now of course, it had been transformed into a structure to store their tools just as they had done with several others in Maria. The titan sat quietly against a large tree, keeping to himself as he observed his family's activities before him. A large fire had been produced, allowing the humans to cook their meals and gather around its glow that illuminated the wide clearing. Hange was discussing things with Molbit while Erwin and Levi were looking over maps. His smaller humans were divided between eating something called porridge and talking about the day's occurrences such as the ambush and how he brutally took down the titans. His eyes shifted to the other side of the clearing to see both his little ones and Petra tending to a few of the wounded, smiling inwardly as they shared their kindness.
Feeling another uncomfortable ripple in his stomach, Rogue unobtrusively lifted his hand and gently rubbed his belly. A mere few hours after they had left the village, he had begun to feel the effects of his mistake – regretting his strong curiosity to ingest a little of his foe's blood. At first, his discomfort was limited to abdominal cramps that usually came first when his 'disposing process' began. Now he was incredibly queasy with the addition of early contractions and a bubbling in his stomach that wasn't going away. Admittedly, he had held back on notifying his little ones, Levi or Hange about his current predicament. It was a stressful situation already and he didn't want to worry them. His pellet would pass soon anyway. Damn he was ignorant. So much for thinking that the blood would just evaporate.
Rogue's stomach reminded him of his idiocy with a low sloshing complaint. He gritted his teeth as the angry organ rebelled with a slight compress before slacking up and continuing to produce little waves within its walls. The titan sighed stiffly, pressing the tips of his fingers into his abs before guiding his hand in a small circular motion. While still continuing his attempts, Rogue looked up to see if anyone had noticed his discomfort. To his surprise, he had thankfully not caught their attention. He really didn't want them to fret. He didn't want to alarm them when the time came to rid the bloody contents from his fussy stomach. His little ones had never seen him do such a thing and Hange would be asking countless questions. Of course, how could he keep his misery a secret when he had to vomit? It wasn't like he could just sneak away. Another sickly grumble sounded from his beaten belly, forcing Rogue to cover it with both of his large hands to both apply pressure and attempt to muffle the inner complaints. Once again, he cursed himself for his stupidity.
Hearing the ever-familiar address, Rogue lifted his head to see Levi approaching his bulk casually – the titan hoping the man hadn't heard his suffering. The Corporal looked fatigued, brows somewhat relaxed from his scowl and green cloak dangling loosely from his shoulders. In his hand, he held what smelled and looked to be a bowl of soup. Rogue swallowed; surely Levi wasn't going to eat with him. To the titan's relief, Levi stopped a few feet from his thigh and simply stood, nonchalantly taking a bite of his soup. Rogue gulped nervously, not only did he not really feel like speaking, but he was fearful of how Levi would judge his performance. Realizing that the Corporal was expecting some sort of answer, Rogue gave a soft grunt – still trying to keep a lid on his nausea.
"I have to say that I am impressed by your performance Rogue." Levi began, making the titan wonder if he had been wrong. "You disposed the incoming titans as ordered and even warded the others off. You executed the moves I taught you with good skill but not without adding your own brutality." The man paused, taking another bite. "However, I have to give you critique. Rogue – do you remember what I said to you the day before Zackley and Nile came? At your loss during the capture exercise?"
The titan felt his ears and shoulders sinking. When Levi had first told him the statement in question, he wasn't entirely sure what the man had meant at the time. It wasn't until recently when Rogue was finally explained what 'mother hen' instincts were that the titan understood. Finally the titan nodded, curling his hands tighter over his stomach as the fluttering sensation continued.
"Alright then. During the first five minutes of the attack, your concern over Ackerman and Arlert caused you to be stiff and distracted. If you hadn't snapped out of that state, we would have been overwhelmed and our losses would have been devastating." Levi paused, eyes suddenly breaking contact and staring into the burning fire, obviously entering a state of deep thought. For what seemed like ages but in reality was mere seconds, it was quiet between the two. Finally, Levi's eyes adverted back to him, ice blue suddenly growing darker. "In truth, in most cases following orders is the right choice. Of course, there are those rare few instances where a judgment call has to be made. You can either do one thing to save masses or the other to save those you love. During those instances, you must do what you will and regret the least. However, this was not the case at the village. By following orders, you saved nearly all of us. The only soldiers that weren't as lucky were those that had a gear malfunction at the wrong time or were simply stepped on. If you had rushed in to our position to save those you cherished, a lot of people would have been killed. Understand?"
Rogue nodded slowly, absorbing Levi's words. By the man's behavior, the titan could tell he was referencing the incident that his own two friends had went through before joining the pack. As far as the full message as to what Levi was trying to convey, Rogue was only able to receive part of it instantly. He would have to dwell on the other parts further.
"Well then. As far as the expedition goes, it will take us another four days to get to Shi –
Before the Corporal could finish, Rogue's stomach announced its deplorable condition with a deep gurgle, the vast organ constricting stronger than it had previously and forcing Rogue to whine inaudibly. Insistently, the titan removed a hand and began to massage his belly yet again in a sad attempt to coax himself through the contraction. Recalling that the Corporal was next to him, Rogue looked up sheepishly. Hopefully now that Levi knew, the man wouldn't grab the other's attention. Levi raised a thin brow, directing his gaze from the creature's abdomen to his face.
"Rogue… you better hope that wasn't gas. Heaven forbid, there's nowhere for it to –
The titan quickly shook his head. "Nooo." He replied as quietly as he could. "UUsstt uurrrtts. EELL Siiccck." Rogue informed as the tightening receded and he was able to uncoil his fist.
Levi blinked, looking almost unamused, but the titan could clearly sense a twinge of concern. "So, your stomach hurts?"
Rogue nodded almost bashfully. Wincing again as his stomach starting bubbling.
Corporal Levi dithered, shifting his weight on his heel. "Why does it hurt Rogue?"
He hesitated; he did not want to share the real reason for his agony. "EEiii allllooww NNaaape."
To the titan's dismay, Levi only glared in suspicion. "Rogue, I deal with young recruits every day that are foolish enough to try and give me the slip. For that reason, I'm good at being able to tell if people are lying. Even here, in the dim light of the fire, the tips of your ears are as red as apples. Now, what is the real reason?"
Rogue adverted his eyes to his belly, hands hugging it in shame. Damn he was dumb. The truth was unavoidable. "Eiii SSaalllooww OOdd. AAnnnggee SsaaEEii EEIII NNiigghtt EEaattt IITTAANNS." He paused, hoping that he was making some sort of sense to an already outlandish statement. "AANNTTeedd TTeesst IITt OOuut." Rogue concluded in utter embarrassment as he buried his gaunt cheek into his knee. How was Levi going to react to such a thing.
"So, since shit for brains told you your kind most likely ate titans, you decided to ingest a little blood to try it out? Am I right?"
Rogue nodded regretfully, his belly producing another rumbling growl that made him rub his tender abdomen more attentively.
"And… If I'm not mistaken what will happen is –
"Hello you two!"
The titan's brows knitted together all the while Levi let out an aggravated sigh as Hange came to them with a wide smile upon her face. However, that expression vanished as soon as she spied Rogue's strained appearance and Levi's scowl.
"Levi, what's wrong? Rogue – he looks almost like he's pale." Hange spoke shakily, eyes blown wide in sheer concern. The titan sighed. As much as he loved the woman, he didn't feel like being interrogated at the moment.
"He's not feeling well. Rogue swallowed some titan blood out of curiosity in light of what you told of him about a diet of titan meat."
"Ohhhhh." Hange began as she turned to Rogue and as if to confirm the words of the Corporal, his stomach produced another sickening series of gurgles – muscles in the lining swelling as the organ contracted. The titan expressed his discomfort with another whine yet again. The messy haired woman, despite the apprehension of the situation, smiled tenderly and rubbed a small hand on his thigh as a comforting gesture. "I see. So our titan has a tummy ache!" The scientist squealed softly, thankfully not catching any attention. Rogue shut his eyes as he battled both the pain and embarrassment, groaning quietly at his misfortune. "Ah! Well, looks like Rogue will soon cough up a titan pellet! Isn't that something Levi?"
"I've never seen a titan vomit in close proximity Levi! I have to say, I'm excited to help him on this!" Hange smiled, eyes still sparkling up at him.
"I'm not holding back his hair while he pukes, Hange." Levi paused, eyes narrowing. "You could at least be a little bit less over enthused here. I've seen a few titans cough up pellets before, but they never show any sign of strain like Rogue is obviously under."
Hange grew silent; smile fading as she looked back to the uncomfortable creature. "You're right. From what I've seen at a distance, titans just suddenly throw up and move on like it never even happened." The scientist paused as her eyes observed the titan's muscles stiffen as more complaints came from the rowdy organ while another moan came from the depths of his throat. "Rogue here however looks like he's almost experiencing something similar to early labor pains. Hmm… if I had to hypothesize why that is I would say that perhaps the reason why is because his body isn't used to such a practice yet as far as the nausea feeling goes or it's related to his species." Hange spoke as she watched his abdominal muscles of his stomach finally relax and his fingers loosen their grip upon his skin. "That's intriguing, producing a titan pellet looks to be very similar to active labor since he's really having what looks to be genuine contractions, Levi. Much like how a woman's contractions gradually push out a baby, a titan's stomach does the same to force a pellet up and out. What an incredible mechanic!" Hange beamed as she knelt down to his lowered hand and began to encouragingly pat the top. "Don't worry Rogue, we'll get you through this and you'll be better in no time!"
Although he was now feeling incredibly nauseous, Rogue let out a small grunt in thanks before thinking back to his preferences. "DDOoonn't EELLL IIttllee OOnns." The titan requested quietly as he tried to get comfortable for the time being. The two humans looked to him in both shock and question. Rogue sighed; he had probably thrown them for a loop.
"You mean, you don't want to tell Armin and Mikasa you're sick?"
He nodded to the incredibly baffled Hange." EEII OONNTT AANNTT Orrrry AAIIBBIIEES. AARRNNIiinn Unnndd NNIIkkaasssa NNEEvveRR SSEEE NNNEE SSIIKK."
"Oh, but I'm sure that –
After his declaration, silence fell upon the three. The titan continued to keep his gaze, even though he was growing even queasier, on the two to harden his point. He watched in fear as Levi glanced from his little ones to Erwin before turning back to the titan and a waiting Hange. "It's probably best to have as little commotion as possible. We don't need the whole legion going into panic. If he doesn't want Ackerman and Arlert to see him this venerable, then they don't have to. I'll just tell Erwin that I decided to go over a last minute move with you in light of today's battle." Levi sighed as he turned to inform the Commander. "I'll be back momentarily."
Rogue dipped his head in thanks and tried to settle again for the meantime as he watched Levi approach and address Erwin from a distance. The titan released a shaky puff of steam and leaned softly into Hange who was now perched on his shoulder and rubbing his cheek tenderly. Green pools drifted to his abdomen, blinking weakly. Hopefully his misfortune would end quickly.
No sooner after Levi had shared his intentions with the Commander, did Rogue's nausea and discomfort return nearly full force. Luckily the three were able to sneak off into a secluded area near the stream with no set of eyes following them. He had been so embarrassed that he could have sworn that he was steaming at the time. As he was hunched over and wrenching his stomach contents, Hange was positioned next to him. He was fine with her rubbing his arm in comfort, but her childish librettos that she cooed made him feel all the more displeased with himself. The woman would constantly say things like 'there there, it's almost out Rogue' or 'oh you poor thing' as well as making observations about his disposing process and noting how different his pellet was – which was more malformed than normal and contained enough blood to fill a small pond. Levi, as usual, was not at all entertained by the situation. Despite a previous comment, he had indeed reduced himself to holding back Rogue's hair because he didn't want his locks to be surfaced in vomit – which had a much slower evaporation rate along with a pellet that didn't evaporate but instead would wither away by time. When Rogue had completed the revolting task, he was sadly mistaken that the moment would be the last of his embarrassment. Levi had made sure that his mouth was clean by forcing him to take water from the stream, swish it as best as he could in his mouth to get him of any straggling particles before spitting it out. Then, for nearly a half hour as he recovered, Hange voluntarily made it her duty to rub his recuperating belly and continue to comfort with her immature but nonetheless kind words all the while Levi complained about how disgusting the experience was. When the ordeal was over, Rogue had felt so humiliated that he wanted to crawl into a hole and hide for hours.
Because of the treatment and the illness in general, Rogue didn't wish to consume anything from his kind ever again.
The titan, now back at the campsite, leaned casually against the trunk of the giant timber trying to appear as if nothing had ever occurred. Shortly after arriving, Rogue had willingly proposed that he take a shift in watching the camp. While his little ones and the others ate or set up their resting perch, the titan kept his ears, eyes, and nose peeled for any intruder that had the guts to ambush just in case. Rogue was excruciatingly vigilant; any foreign noise besides human tongue grabbed his attention. After the ambush previously, he felt that it was in his best interest to watch over the humans that were in one of their most vulnerable states – one exhibited while they fed. If they were somehow attacked now, the odds of survival were not great even with his aid. Thus, the reasons for his sudden need to assist. The titan understood that and he understood it well.
Rogue watched as his babies and family members began to roost in their green sacks up in the trees, finding sturdy limbs to attach their cocoons. The titan watched as both Armin and Mikasa began to sort out their belongings, noticing how slow they were going until they were finally lifting themselves into the cloth wrap. Sensing that there were still no signs of an unexpected intruder, his emerald greens danced around the tree's thick branches. Up in the canopy, his closest friends were settling in. Petra was wrapping her frame in her blanket and Hange held a small flame to her notebook, eyes greedily scanning the pages. The sudden feeling of want hit Rogue, making a soft whine vibrate his chords. He was tired; his body was beginning to shut down. He wanted to trade his shift to another so he could join all of them and be in their tiny embrace.
Hearing his name below, the titan looked down to see Ness at his feet. The creature tilted his head to question what the man wanted.
"You look exhausted so I'll take over." The man beamed up at him.
At the words, his heart instantly lifted as he let out a quiet little squeal. The titan dipped his head in thanks and then turned to face the tree, seeing that Armin and Mikasa were grinning tenderly at him.
"We'll see you in the morning I guess." Armin began as he scratched his scalp. "Good ni –
Before he could let the teen finish his declaration, Rogue abruptly grasped the tree's trunk and began to scale up the towering plant, the pulsations jolting a few souls awake and took others' attentions away from whatever they were doing. The titan trilled gleefully as he came to the thick basin of branches nestled in the center between his little ones, his smaller humans, Hange, Petra, the other veterans, and Levi.
"Did you decide to join us?" Mikasa asked with a small smile on her face.
Rogue nodded at her request before flopping down carefully in the organic cradle with a cheerful croon. The titan wiggled his ears in delight as he lazily held out his hand as a silent beckon for his little ones to join him. As usual, without hesitation, they came aboard and Rogue carefully angled his arm and hand to set them down on the top of his collarbone. Before the two could settle against his flesh, Rogue took it upon himself to show his affection and his pride of the two with several loving but dry licks.
"Rogue! Do you have to!" Armin joshed with the titan merely purring in amusement while adding a few final displays before stopping and nestling his chin against their two small bodies in favor. The towering behemoth continued his gentle hums, tired eyes watching with utter warmth as the two settled into him. He was so happy with their progress.
"I'm jealous! I'm coming over!" Hange announced enthusiastically as she struggled to free herself from her cocoon. The unkempt woman then carefully dropped down onto his chest, landing ungracefully onto the hard muscle and dropping her book, matchbox, and blanket. Spirited, Hange then got to her feet and made her way to the dip between his pectorals. The scientist then positioned herself to lie on her belly between the two broad muscles. Next, Hange opened her book, lit a match, and pressed her writing stick to the parchment to scribe her notes. She then looked up to him with an almost dopey grin on her face. "This is much better! Not to mention with the slight chill tonight, your body heat is pretty soothing!"
Rogue smiled softly and gave a grunt in reply, dipping his head slightly.
"It does feel great after using the gear." Armin added. "One thing about it, Rogue is awesome to stay with if you're sore from work or training."
The titan looked up to see Connie and a few other small humans looking upon he and his current occupants. Their eyes were wide in expectancy, some rotating out of their cocoons.
Hange nodded. "Yup! The heat feels great on your joints and muscles!"
"Well in that case I'm swapping beds." Connie declared as the teen quickly left his perch and descended down onto his flesh followed by both Sasha and Krista. Rogue felt his chest flutter as more of his little family settled upon him, sighing in great relief from their day's exhaustion.
"It's so warm…" Krista exhaled as she lay out comfortably.
"I'm not sleeping in my hammock again." Sasha giggled, gaze looking back to where Jean resided, the titan noting how the teen was discreetly watching him. "Come join us Horseface, you know you want to." The girl smiled teasingly with the other teen rolling his eyes.
"Yeah right. He'd just push me off or blow steam in my face."
"Come on Jean. Don't be chicken! He won't hurt a fly!" Connie exclaimed provocatively.
Rogue, deciding to ignore his fatigue, began to mockingly make several clucking noises, knowing what chickens sounded like from observing farm animals at a respectable distance. The titan's joke immediately brought a few laughs and Jean's face colored red. To his surprise, Jean sat up and stepped out of his cocoon – throwing his pillows down onto Rogue's stomach.
"Fine. If it will get all of you to shut up." The teen spoke gruffly as he irritably scaled down to his stomach, flopping down without another word. Rogue felt himself smiling in cunning, although Jean's face still appeared rather grumpy – the fact that the male's muscles had relaxed told him that the long-faced teen was secretly enjoying the heat.
Understanding that he had more company than he originally had intended, Rogue cupped his arms around the group of humans in protection just in case they were to fall. He continued to purr softly, completely content with the extra companionship. The titan closed his eyes slowly, nuzzling his chin against his little ones as he prepared to sleep.
"Well I'm not going to feel left out!"
At Petra's voice, Rogue unshielded his eyes to accept the redhead on his hide as well. With great care, the titan guided the woman to sit on the opposite side of his collarbone. Like he had with his own, he welcomed Petra with a small lick before resting his jaw against her as well. Petra giggled at his gesture, willingly stroking his leathery skin with appreciation.
"Thank you Rogue. You jealous Hange?" The redhead laughed with the scientist revealing her pouting face, teeth biting her upper lip and cheeks puffed out before the woman released a sigh.
"Damn! I would have sat where you were if I wasn't taking notes! This works though! I got some great information earlier that I need to write down before I forget!" Hange replied, eyeing Rogue coyly – the titan knowing exactly what she was implying and hoping that the others wouldn't pick it up let alone look at Hange's journal.
"Do you mind if we join you?" Eld asked with both Gunter and Oluo in tow. Rogue shook his head as he settled further, purring in likeness as the company grew.
"He's pretty popular this evening isn't he?" Petra directed to his little ones. Mikasa nodded.
"I have a feeling when winter rolls around Rogue is going to get all sorts of attention. He was Armin and I's primary heat source when we lived out here in the winter. When he curls himself around you blankets aren't needed."
"He's a living heater really." Armin added with a laugh as Hange looked up from her task yet again.
"You know Rogue, I think Levi needs to join us." Hange spoke mischievously, the titan not missing Hange's evil smile – one that she always adapted when she was trying to pull the man into something that there was no chance in him doing. "Levi!"
"No." The man groaned from within his cocoon, not even shifting to look around at the titan or his cargo. Despite the reply, Hange only kept her smile.
"Come on Levi! He's really warm!"
"Levi…he really wants you down here!" The woman begged, putting words in Rogue's mouth while she was trying to coax the man as if he was a child – something that seemed to annoy the man even further.
"Hange," Levi began sternly, this time peeking over the cloth of the pouch. "There is no way in hell that I'm laying on his naked ass."
Hange chortled. "You're not laying on his ass Corporal! You have the option to bunk on his chest or tummy!"
Levi hesitated for a moment, scowl growing darker before turning over to wrap himself in his cocoon again. "Shut the fuck up Shitty Glasses."
Rogue watched as Hange sighed loudly, obviously trying to not lead the man on as she thought of another plan. The messy haired woman then turned back to him, eyes lighting with an impish glint. "Rogue?" She whispered. "You want to help me out?"
As much as the titan felt like Levi should just be left alone – a rare consideration since he normally liked to lightly tease the Corporal, Rogue decided that it might be a bit of fun for both he and his occupants. Not to mention, Levi might end up liking the change in sleeping arrangements. Rogue then nodded to Hange and looked up at Levi's cocoon. Deciding to play the 'sad and innocent card' in light of the scientist's statement, the giant humanoid carefully lifted a finger and let out a pitiful whine as he gently tapped the hammock with several of his occupants snickering.
The titan watched as Levi stirred in the slightest but refused to exit his cocoon. "NO Rogue."
With Hange and a few others silently urging him on, the titan emitted another loud whine and poked the hammock again. Once more, the stubborn individual stirred but did not emerge.
Rogue smirked, letting out a third whine that was by far the loudest as he pushed the cocoon to where it was swaying back and forth. This time, the hammock violently jerked as Levi struggled to reveal himself – signaling Rogue to put on what Hange had called 'the look.'
"THE FUCK DID I JUST –
However, the man, now in view of the crowd, stopped mid-sentence as he stared at Rogue – the creature looking the saddest that he could possibly manage. Not unlike a puppy, the titan's ears were lowered with his chin. His brows were arched upward with Rogue's line of sight looking to Levi, pupils large and innocuous. The titan trembled slightly, but barely upset his occupants. To engrave his want and take the things one step further, Rogue made a pleading whimper – eyes still sad but waiting to see if he and Hange's plan would work.
"Aw! Levi!" Hange playfully groaned. "Look how cute he is! How can you say no to a face like that?"
The Corporal continued to glare, looking constipated as usual. "Hange his face is seventy percent teeth and a hundred percent horrid. So no, he's not adorable and he can quit playing the part of a sad little puppy just for you. I'm done. Good night." Levi paused, turning to the titan. "And if you whine or poke me again I'm taking off your fingers." The stern man concluded as he receded into his cocoon again.
Rogue looked back to Hange who wore a look of disappointment, the others too, seemed to accept the man's decree. However, he wasn't done yet. He wanted one more laugh before he succumbed to his dreams. Before the scientist could announce her surrender or share another plan, Rogue lifted his arm and carefully stuck his fingers into the cocoon.
The titan beamed crookedly as his fingers found Levi's legs. With care, Rogue plucked the short leader from his cocoon and dangled him the wrong way up over his frame. The others unknowingly let themselves laugh as Levi continued to swear and thrash all the while the titan rumbled in amusement.
"ROGUE! You dumbass, put me down! That's an order!"
Of course, instead of obliging by the Corporal's orders, Rogue gently plopped the man's small bulk onto his chest. The titan watched in enjoyment as Levi scrambled to his feet, haphazardly dusting himself off out of habit.
"Welcome aboard Corporal Levi!" Hange cheered as the man folded his arms with repugnance.
"Fuck you." The man growled, but surprisingly left his stance and seated himself against the titan's bicep and chest. Rogue leered awkwardly at this, as he had thought – the man's minuscule or rather microscopic soft side had given in.
"You're not going back to your hammock?" Hange asked, just as spellbound as several of the other humans. Levi looked at her as if she had said something really outlandish, and probably had.
"Does it look like I can just fly up there, Shitty Glasses?"
The woman giggled, now seemingly too preoccupied to finish scribbling with her writing stick. "No." Hange replied, smile still plastered on her face.
"It's not bad Corporal." Petra grinned, joining in on the convincing. "It feels good."
Rogue observed as Levi remained silent, glancing between the three of them with his expression difficult to decipher. However, the titan was keen. He could tell that Levi had given in. "Tsk, whatever. At least he didn't give me a fucking good night kiss. Heaven forbid, with the day's occurrences, I'd rather be wedged in the crack of a titan's ass than that." The crude Corporal eventually replied, obviously meaning the event from earlier that he had to unwillingly attend. Levi leaned his head back and shut his eyes in both aggravation and exhaustion.
For a moment, the titan considered going against the man's wishes, but decided against it for the need of sleep was slowly seeping throughout his body. Several minutes seemed to tick by once again, but were merely seconds of silence before Mikasa broke the chain.
"You know Rogue, this kind of reminds me of the night we spent with you up in the trees taking shelter from the rain. You know, the night before we left?"
Thinking back to that moment brought an easy smile to Rogue's rough mug. He remembered the evening well – the sounds of thunder, pouring rain, and the surprising comfort from his little ones and their sharing of past tales. The beast purred. He didn't have his music box to lull him into a peaceful sleep, so perhaps a swapping of stories would be a fine replacement. "EEESS." Rogue beamed, hoping that he could ask his question without anyone complaining about just wanting to sleep. "ANNNTT – SSAARREE SOOORRIIIEES?"
The titan watched as his little ones exchanged tender looks. "Of course we can swap a few short stories before going to sleep, Rogue." Armin began with Petra and Hange setting up and giving their attention.
"So you three told stories that evening? That was a great way to reminisce." Hange alliterated as she rested her chin in her palm as she prepared to absorb any word.
"Do you mind if we join you?" Petra added. "I'd love to hear some stories about your childhood with Rogue, particularly the one with the ducks."
Despite his exhaustion, the titan let out a small huff in humor, recalling the event that used to make his little ones laugh to no end.
Armin chuckled. "Oh yeah that's a good one."
"I want to hear it too!" Krista called from the group of recruits with a few of his other occupants joining in – all except for Levi and Jean who were pretending to be asleep or not paying attention even though they were really attentive.
"Is this the story you mentioned with the ducks?" Sasha asked with the blonde teen nodding.
"Yes. A few months after we met Rogue, we were eating lunch in the cove while Rogue was watching the water in his pond. That was when he found a cluster of eggs on the banks – and that moment was when they unfortunately began to hatch. From that moment, the eight ducklings followed him around constantly."
Petra continued to smile. "What did he think of them?"
"Ah well, Rogue was as one would expect when faced with a situation like that. At first, he was pretty uncomfortable with the fact that the ducklings trailed him wherever he went in the cove. Rogue would always try to get away from them by climbing into his nest, but when they even followed him there, he tried climbing up the cove's rock wall and everything. Of course, it wasn't long until he began to feel sorry for them – having watched the ducks fall over themselves trying to go after him up the rocks or lift into the air with each of his steps. Rogue then began to 'mother' the ducklings as Mikasa and I like to put it. To avoid stepping on them or anything, he would walk softer and slower and if he lay down with us, Rogue welcomed the ducks to nestle against him or sit in his hair."
Hange laughed. "His parental instincts even span to other species!" She giggled, writing in her book again.
"That's hilarious! Picturing a fifteen-meter titan with teeny tiny ducklings is just funny!" Krista giggled. "What happened to the ducks when they grew up?"
Mikasa smirked. "Well… if you ever find some flightless ducks in Maria you'll know why."
Even though his little one spoke her words with a nearly straight face, many of his pack members began laughing.
"Is that really how it happened?" Petra queried, trying to keep her giggling at bay.
"Well," Armin rubbed his chin. "When it came time for the ducks to migrate, Rogue took them and tossed them into the air, the birds gaining the experience to fly at that point. They migrated with the flock somewhere far beyond the walls. As far as we know, every spring they still come back to Rogue's forest. Of course they aren't attached at his hip though but they still keep close if he happens upon them."
"That's so cool!" The scientist exclaimed, writing down her notes furiously. "It's kind of like how Rogue decided to care for the kittens in the barn even with their mother present!"
"I still can't believe how badly you fucked up that incident, Shitty Glasses." Levi suddenly interrupted, bringing a few surprised faces to his unexpected involvement. Rogue tilted his head; Levi had never done anything of the sort. "For a whole entire day, you made the entire regiment think that we had a fucking fertile titan."
The titan's face instantly reddened at the mention of the embarrassing event. They were always pulling this joke on him.
"Hey! It wasn't totally my fault Levi! I told you, I just mistranslated what Rogue had said!"
"Tsk, and we were almost to the point of having to report that bullshit. We were in hell for twenty-four hours trying to figure out what the fuck we were going to do." Levi retorted. Although he was wearing a heavy scowl, there were still others snickering and trying to hide their sin of doing so.
"Aw, well in a way it was good that it happened! We got to teach Rogue some new words!" Hange paused, smiling from ear to ear. "Still… it would have been fun to see a bunch of little Rogues running around."
Levi's palm went to his face, the man groaning. "Hange, one giant brat is way enough."
Rogue snorted in amusement, finding the man's words that weren't even a joking attempt funny. To his surprise, a few others found the man's dry comment funny as well. At the display of mirth, Levi simply adverted his gaze and attempted to go back to sleep.
"Ah well, a girl can dream."
The titan purred, patiently waiting for another story.
"Do you remember that day of the first snow after the breach?" Mikasa questioned the blonde teenager. Armin nodded.
"Oh yeah. To cheer Rogue up we tried to show him what a snowball fight was."
His little one nodded. "Yeah, I think we learned that day why you don't have a snowball fight with a titan."
Petra tittered, giving in to a yawn. "Oh boy, I have to hear this."
"Okay." Armin sniggered, eyes sinking in fatigue. "As you can guess, Rogue wasn't like he is now back then. He was pretty depressed and up tight at that time so Mikasa and I thought we'd try to make him feel better. When the first snow of the winter fell, we brought Rogue out of his nest and showed him the basics of the game like how to actually make a snowball and that he was to throw it at the other team. However, the two of us forgot one crucial detail when we started our match. When it came time for Rogue to counter attack our snowy assault, he just picked up a wad of snow in his hand and held it over our heads before simply letting it cascade over us. So in the end, no fort you make will protect you from Rogue at all."
The titan listened lazily, struggling to keep his eyes open as the others laughed.
"If we ever have a snowball fight at headquarters, he's on my team!" Connie declared.
"It will be the recruits and Rogue verses the veterans. The use of gear is optional but encouraged." Sasha added; giving the buzz cut teen what was called a high five.
"No way in hell is that going to happen."
To the groups' surprise, Levi had spoken again, but this time he still kept his position of rest, eyes closed and brow furrowed. Once more, few found his involvement funny.
Feeling his eyes shut briefly before reopening, Rogue decided to welcome the idea of sleep. Calmly, he nudged his chin into his little ones to grab their interest.
"What is it Rogue?"
The titan yawned, his rumbling groan echoing throughout the canopy. "EEEII SSEEEPP NNOOUU. UUU CCAANNN SSTTEEYY UUUTT."
"Oh alright Rogue. You can go ahead and fall asleep, of course I think we might too." Armin yawned in return.
Hange sat aside her book, carefully inserting her pen in the spine for safekeeping. "He does look like he's about to pass out." The woman added, giving in to lying onto his flesh. "I think I might just go to sleep anyway. We have a long day tomorrow."
"That's true. I'm going to hit the hay as well." Petra agreed as she gradually grabbed a lock of his thick but surprisingly clean hair, titan blood having evaporated from it, and draped it over her. "Good night, Rogue – everyone."
At the show of gratitude, Rogue dipped his head and gave the redhead a gentle lick before turning to the two frames of his little ones to share his undying love for them as well.
"Good night Rogue." Armin addressed as he leaned against the titan's warm flesh.
Mikasa, after mirroring Petra's decision to wrap in his hair, pressed herself into him as well. "Goodnight brother."
At her words, Rogue purred yet again before snuggling into his tiny and precious cargo. Slowly, he let sleep overcome him, sinking ears listening to the sounds of the night as he submerged into his final thoughts. He loved his little ones, Petra, and Hange to death, the others as well. Hopefully the following day would fair better than this one. He treasured being with them. He didn't want to be torn from the opportunity.
Fingers held leather reins in a strong hold, fresh eyes scanning the surrounding vegetation on the plain and the nearby batches of wood. Armin, although crisp into the corps, beheld a good understanding about the landscape's current state. It was quiet in the middle rank. There hadn't been much action as far as he was able to tell. His current jobs consisted of firing flares and keeping watch on a spare horse that was tethered to his assigned steed. The morning had faired well. After eating a filling breakfast, the teens had bid temporary farewell to Rogue who seemed much more lenient about their leave than before. This surprised the teen at first, knowing just how protective the titan was, but he figured that Rogue's behavior was due to what he had witnessed at the village. Admittedly, it warmed the teen inside to see the titan as proud as he was. If he had to guess what it was like for the beast, he would say it was like a parent sending their offspring off on their first day of school – proud, slightly anxious, yet with firm belief that they would be great. In truth, Rogue's demeanor made Armin feel better as well.
The boy exited his thoughts once again to examine his position. Scrutinizing his surroundings, a troubling fact came to him. It was too… quiet. The birds weren't chirping nor flying. Everything seemed to be grounded. Armin swallowed, hand reaching for his signal flare just in case. From his classes' teachings, the teen knew that a quiet landscape usually signaled trouble in the form of a man-eating titan.
He gulped, feeling his heart rattle. All his ears seemed to hear was the breath of his galloping horse, one that sounded stressed. Suddenly, another troubling thought crossed his mind, an undisputed fact that he couldn't ignore. He hadn't seen a signal flare in the last hour. His muscles tightened in fear, something was off. 'The right wing spotters should have signaled by now…'
Suddenly there was a small blast and a black trail of smoke appeared above the trees. Before Armin could even acknowledge the signal, let alone lift his own flare gun to fire, a barrage of heavy footsteps, hooves, and shouts erupted from the tree line ahead of him. Realizing what was about to occur, Armin tugged on the reins and forced his horse out of the impending path of destruction. Ness and another soldier burst from the brush followed by a twelve meter abnormal. Like all abnormals, the titan was strange. It walked with what he could define as a proud waltz with both arms straight as sticks and out to its sides. Its face was fixed in a grimace with its dead eyes looking straight ahead, not paying any mind to the two soldiers as it charged. Quickly, though fear was heavily present in his body, Armin changed the direction of his horse knowing that two soldiers, although experienced, couldn't possibly take down an abnormal titan in an open field. The teen pushed the equine further, hooves pounding the earth relentlessly as he neared the two Scouts who were currently strategizing how to bring the strutting beast down. As the blonde caught up with the two, he gained Ness's attention – the man looking surprised and stressed to see him. It then dawned on him, why was Ness here and out of position?
"Arlert! What –
"Squad Leader! I'm here to provide assistance!" Armin replied, his voice sounding much more shaky than he expected. However, the man's eyes only narrowed.
"No! I'm not letting a rookie take this one! I have an order for you to carry out! You need to pass it on to the next messenger!"
He hesitated, caught off guard. Was that the reason why Ness and the soldier were out of position? "Wha –
"I'm sure you've noticed the right wing spotters haven't signaled in a while right?" The other soldier began hurriedly. "That's because they were ambushed by another titan horde! They were overwhelmed when at least thirty titans bombarded them. Without our asset, they didn't stand a chance. Only about a dozen soldiers got out of there."
His heart skipped a beat. There was another horde? He swallowed back a lump that had immediately formed in his throat at the news. Titan hordes were a rare thing. Only single titans or small clusters of three to five usually attacked at a time. Hoards, in comparison to other attacks, happened once in every five expeditions. To happen twice in forty-eight hours was unheard of.
"It's likely that the horde is still in the right wing and feeding. It's also very likely that they will be heading through the formation. That's the message we need you to pass along Arlert! Now, let us handle this so you can get going before it's too late!" Ness concluded roughly as he propelled his horse faster.
After a moment in the fog, Armin pulled on his reins and navigated his horse in the other direction and toward the center rank. How? How was it possible for another horde to show up! If they advanced further, they would loose a large number of Scouts! If the numbers were too great, it was likely that the Scouts would either have to take time to gather more willing soldiers or the less expensive option of disbanding the entire regiment. His blood ran cold. If that occurred, what would be the fate of Rogue? What would they do with him? If he couldn't stay with them, would he be turned loose or just executed without a further thought? His hands gripped the reins tighter, knuckles going white. No! He had to prepare the others! If the titans came, Levi, his squad, Mikasa, and Rogue would certainly cut them down!
Concerned for Ness and the soldier, Armin looked over his shoulder just in time to see the two beginning to execute their plan.
'To slow it down they'll have to slice the tendons of its ankles. That's the only way they will be able to take it down on this terrain.'
Armin watched as Ness lifted himself from his saddle and aimed a cable into the titan's hip – the creature not even noticing as it trudged along. The man then pushed himself forward, a large amount of exhaust coming from his gear as he pushed it to its limits, allowing himself to fly through the air as far as he could before touching down to the earth. As if he was skiing on the surface of water, Ness planted his feet firmly into the grass and dirt, dust flying as he moved – the sole of his boot flying off with the force. With blades angled appropriately, Ness cleanly cut a fleshy chunk from both of the titan's ankles. Without a single cry in agony, the towering creature fell face first into the earth, dirt plowing from the impact. As the creature shockingly began to lift itself to its elbows, the other soldier swooped in and ended the monster's miserable existence with a single swipe. The abnormal's head fell unceremoniously to the grass, blood amalgamating with its foggy eyes still in a dead stare. He let himself take a short breath in relief at the men's success. Abnormals were considered among the most dangerous titans simply due to their unpredictability and the fact that they seemed to ignore single or small groups of humans and charge straight into the area with the largest concentration of human scent. Ridding this titan was a great liberation in light of the possibly advancing horde.
For a moment, he watched as the two remounted their horses and engaged in slight celebration before advancing behind him. Armin let out another breath in release before turning his attention back to the stretch of land before him. However, the blonde teen caught something from the corner of his eye, movement. Alarmed, he turned his head to peer behind him.
His eyes widened instantly in terror as he saw it.
Behind Ness and the other Scout, a titan, a fourteen-meter was sprinting full tilt toward them - its speed tremendous. Feeling the vast rumbling of the earth, the two soldiers spun around to see the titan just as it was right on top of them. Reflexively, the two tugged sharply on their reins, horses moving just enough to clear themselves from a giant foot as it planted itself between them as the titan kept running. Armin's jaw dropped in utter shock. It was another abnormal.
A skinless abnormal.
He blinked in disbelief. If he knew anything about skinless titans – like the Armored and Colossal, it was that they were extremely dangerous. Turning back behind him, Armin watched in terror as the solder planted a hook into the titan's bicep while Ness repeated his action of embedding a hook into the titan's hip.
'Hopefully they can take it down! They have to take it down! It's dangerous!'
The solder rocketed himself through the air, blades aimed for the nape while Ness was low and ready. Then, before steel could meet muscle and flesh, the titan raised its arm and swiped with precision – capturing the man in its hand. Blood and innards sprayed in all directions as the monster's fingers enclosed around its victim. Completely frozen, Armin watched as the titan swiftly reached down and grasped the other attached cable in hand, Ness now within its clutches. The seasoned Scout cried in mercy as he was violently swung up over the beast's head of blonde hair and thrown at the unforgiving earth. Within seconds, the man's bones shattered upon impact just before the titan's foot reduced Ness to a large red smear painted across the grass.
Sheer terror flooded the teen from all sides as he realized that he was alone with the skinless titan. The beast looked in his direction, and charged. His mind snapped, brain commanding him to push his horse to its limits.
'I'm dead! I'm so dead! I can't defeat that thing on my own! I'll never see Mikasa! I'll never see Rogue ever again! I'm done for!' His mind screamed. The blonde's face paled, vision blurry as he began to go rigged. Armin shook his head, not daring to look back at the titan that was trailing after him with the intent to slaughter. Suddenly, it hit him, making his pupils shrink to nearly the size of pen tip. The titan didn't eat Ness or the other soldier after it killed them, not even pausing to lick the blood from its fingers. The way it moved… the way it grabbed the cables and used its agility to -
His heart nearly flat lined.
'Oh god, is it really what I think it is?' Armin's mind screamed. 'I have to hide! But where! This is a damn field! Where! Where can I get –
However, before the teen could finish his frantic thought, he felt his body being lifted into the air and his horses' screeching as they were separated from solid ground. A series of pains erupted through his body as the sky and earth began to trade places over and over. Like a rag doll, he rolled until his momentum finally receded. His heart thundered, dizziness crippling his crooked body. Instinctively, the teen tried to move from his current position, luckily discovering that nothing was broken. Armin blinked rapidly, noticing that he looked much worse than he appeared with blood leaking from scrapes and cuts all over his body. His heart hammered. The horse he was just riding on was lying a few feet from him; its neck broken severely with bone protruding through fur and the spare was nowhere to be seen. He panicked, his last lifeline was gone. There was no chance at survival now. He would never see his family again.
Suddenly the earth shook all around him, lifting his petite frame a few inches before dumping him to the earth again, forcing a whine to sound through his teeth. A large shadow descended over him, an awaiting death. However, the realm of eternal blankness didn't sweep over him. Confused, Armin opened his eyes to look in the face of the reaper.
All the color drained from his skin as he saw it. He had been right.
The titan was kneeled over him, golden hair cascading over its face like a spider web wet with dew. Its eyes, eyes that were far clearer than the dead gaze of a normal titan, glowed a menacing blue that reflected a satanic aura. The skin on its face was pale, nearly white with slits on either side of its cheeks – the corners meeting a pair of perfectly sculpted lips. Framing its burning blues were more cut outs, simply ornate muscle. Armin blinked, eyes dancing down to observe the titan's frame – spotting a detail that he had missed and something he had never thought possible.
The titan was clearly female.
The teen's breath shook in his chest. In all of his studies as a trainee and as a Scout – in any of the records that he found in the castle's library and in any archive, there was nothing to suggest that female titans even existed. Yet here he was in the shadow of one, a titan with a feminine build with nearly every feminine asset right down to its bust. But the undeniable fact that was even more alarming what that the titan was indeed intelligent.
She – was like Rogue, but had no shred of his goodhearted soul.
He was dead. So very dead. Far from any help, he was done for.
'I'm so sorry Mikasa and Rogue. I'm sorry that I can't come home. Sorry that I'm weak.'
He continued to remain, waiting to be put into any sort of grave. Memories flashed through his head, ones of happiness and long days spent with his two closest companions. Armin blinked again, eyes looking back to the Female Titan in question. Why wasn't she killing him or eating him? Slowly, the titan's lips peeled into a smile, one of cruelty – one of satisfaction. To his surprise, her expression shaped into one of no concern as she gave an uncaring snort of steam. Slowly, she stood, lively blues leaving his beaten body and setting onto the landscape before her. Without wasting another second, the Female Titan motioned forward in a jog, leaving him behind.
Seconds passed before the teen found any sort of courage to sit up. Although he was sore to the bone, he barely paid his body mind as he continued to race among his thoughts. "Why… why did it let me live?" Armin muttered. "It just… did it just leave me here because it sensed that I was wounded and didn't look like I was to survive? That has to be it, she didn't feel the need to bother with me further." The blonde continued, his brain going a million places at once.
'Wait, she came from –
Shaken from his thought by a familiar voice, Armin turned to see Connie and Jean dismounting their horses and coming to his aid. Immediately, the smaller teen began to lift him to his feet, Armin's eyes glancing back to watch the titan as it continued to put distance between them.
"Dude! Are you all right? You look like hell!" Connie declared as Armin got his footing and stood in shock, noticing the two's looks of concern.
"We found your horse not to far from you." Jean began, tone slightly more flexible than it usually was. "What happened? Do you know what's going on with the right wing spotters?"
Suddenly, he snapped out of his current shaken state and seeped into one of urgency and fortitude. As much as he hated to approach the monster, he had to know more from it. Deep in his mind, hypothesizes began to spawn. Armin then shook off the agony, placing it away as he pointed to the running beast. "That titan, we have to follow it!"
Simultaneously, the teenagers' brows rose in question before turning to look in the direction of his outstretched finger. When they saw the very same that he witnessed, the two entered a state of bewilderment themselves.
"Is that a – female titan?" Jean stammered. "How is that –
"No fucking way." Connie spoke, jaw slack. "Armin – please tell me I'm just looking at –
"No, it's female! I saw it up close. Come on! I'll explain it to you as we trail it!" Armin concluded as he grabbed his secondary horse and waited for the two to mount. Prepared, they then threw themselves forward in pursuit, hands still shaky on their reins.
"So what the hell are we going on Armin? Why are we trailing this titan in particular?" Jean demanded; brow furrowed as he adapted his usual personality once again.
"Please tell me it's not because you think it has a nice ass." Connie added, making the blonde teen exhale harshly.
"No. To start, the right wing spotters have nearly been wiped out, another titan horde ambushed them and only a few made it. The Female Titan is the cause of it! She came from that direction!"
The long faced teen raised brow. "What makes you think that?"
"This may be a bit overwhelming, but she's like Rogue. She's intelligent." Armin laid out, the two's faces reflecting their shock with their own spellbound looks – Connie looking as if he was going to piss himself and Jean looking like he had just learned someone's darkest secret. The older teen's eyes then narrowed once again.
"You've got to be kidding me. What made you think she's intelligent?"
Armin swallowed, thinking back to the grizzly scene. "The way she killed Ness and what was left of his squad. She moved with precision, everything was calculated not just reckless swiping. When she knocked me from my horse, she saw my injuries and smiled like she was pleased – showing expression. She also took note of the extent of my wounds and thought I was too impaired to continue, so she left me for dead." Armin paused tying knots together.
"So… she's like Rogue then – but with a bloodlust?" Connie interrupted. The blonde nodded.
"Unfortunately. Since she's intelligent – I bet she knows how to corral titans like Rogue. She's the one that rounded up a horde of titans and used them to destroy the right wing. I'm willing say it as well, but I think she also did the same technique to us yesterday."
"Holy, why is she –
"I haven't seen her eat anyone yet, she just killed Ness and another soldier and left them behind along with me. So far, she's just intent to kill. The question is why." Armin hesitated, biting his lip. "We have to – keep her from getting any further and perhaps we can find out more –
"So we need to try and kill her?" Connie queried with great alarm. Armin nodded, movements restricted by nerves.
"Either that or we have to at least slow her down… preferably kill her. If we slow her down though, it would give us time to warn the others and have the veterans or Rogue deal with her." Armin informed, eyes still hooked on the titan. 'If it comes to the point of releasing Rogue on her, which hopefully it won't, I'm sure she can be dealt with easily. Rogue is stronger and he's got training to back him up.'
Jean's eyes narrowed further with resentment as his gaze locked onto the Female Titan. "So Armin, do you have the slightest idea how we can achieve that with the huge lack of trees around?" The teen spoke, obviously meaning his statement to be of a sarcastic nature.
For a moment, the blonde was stunned by the behavior before deciding to just push the teen's attitude aside. There were far more serious things to take into account.
"Yeah Armin, they didn't teach us how to subdue a titan on open fields. How are we supposed to safely pull this off?" Connie inquired, demeanor the opposite of Jean's and more like his own.
As a habit he often engaged in, Armin sucked on his lower lip, eyes studying the skinless titan before him. "When Ness made an attempt to kill her, it was when she was on top of them and they didn't have a real strategy. However the Female Titan was gifted in snagging wires just as Rogue is. I think the best way to tackle this is using means of distraction before we aim for the nape. Two of us can distract her at once, that way she has to struggle to keep us both in sight. "Jean – since you're the most gifted with your gear and your blades out of the three of us, you need to be the one that makes the fatal or impairing blow. Connie and I can serve as distractions." Armin lectured, turning to Connie who was looking at him with deep solemnity. "You're the best at making tight turns, so you can be the one that distracts her from above. I'll do the same from below. I'll tangle up her feet." Armin finished, trying to read his two friends' faces. After several moments of consideration they nodded.
"As much as I don't like the idea of engaging this thing, I'll do it." Jean sighed with the other teen nodding in alignment.
"Alright then, let's move quickly. She can't head for the center rank."
In favor of his plan they propelled themselves faster, trying to gain ground on the titan ahead of them. Wind whipped across the open plain, relieving part of him from his nervous sweat. Armin blinked, the feeling of dried blood pulling his eyebrow present. His mind was processing at a much faster pace, shoving the titan's reason aside and placing the plan to execute or subdue before him. To the teen, it was clear that the Female Titan had slowed quite a bit from her previous approach – running now in a jog. Armin swallowed, they had to get moving, it was likely that the creature was saving its energy for another charge later.
"She's decreased rapidly in speed. While she's trying to conserve energy, that's when we nail her!" Armin informed as his eyes focused onto the titan again, mind churning as he began to calculate the monster's speed. "Alright let's spread apart so she can't target all of us at once as we make our approach. Connie, when you get fifteen meters from her, make your approach. I'll swoop in from the side. Jean, depending on her position when the window opens, take her out however way you see fit. Let's go!"
The three rode across the moor, splitting like cells to get into their positions. Armin steered himself aligned to the titan's right, eyes observant. Connie was approaching The Female from behind while Jean navigated within the small clusters of wood and rock. His bright blues scanned the titan further, sky pools studying the Female Titan's face. The teen's breath hung in his ribcage, seeing the titan peeking slightly over her shoulder. Armin swallowed. She was monitoring them. Then the beast did something else that sent a string of horror all throughout his tiny frame.
The Female Titan lifted her hand and covered her nape. She was like Rogue – she knew of her weakness. Intelligent indeed.
Before he could relay some sort of warning to his two other comrades, Connie leaped off his horse and aimed a cable right for the titan's bicep. However, before hook could meet flesh, The Female Titan pivoted on her heel, spinning to her right – hand swinging around to catch Connie's cable. Armin's mind blew up in panic.
'She… caught his cable! She must have listened like Rogue! Connie! She snatched him so easily and directly on point! It's like she's been doing this for a long –
With a newly acquired adrenaline running through his veins, Armin threw his horse forward to continue his plan. He had to distract her before she could kill Connie! The Female Titan smirked as she held Connie in hand, the teen simply dangling in the air with glowing blues staring surely at him – but also with shades of amusement. The vile creature was mocking them. It was like the buzz cut teen was nearly a plaything. Armin whipped the leather reins; he had to get there before she slaughtered him! To his unfortunate luck, The Female Titan then quickly launched the teen straight into the air, but to some miracle, Connie had found that his gear and cables were still optional and released another hook, one that the titan caught yet again. As the creature began to swing Connie in a way where if he was released the teen was doomed, Armin planted a cable into the titan's ankle and began to guide the mare around her opposite foot – cable rubbing profusely against her hot muscle. The titan snarled, a warning much different in pitch than Rogue's – tone higher but seeded with malicious intent. Quickly, Armin circled, but before he could carry on, his horse was violently forced out from beneath him – the impact breaking the animal's legs and sending it flying across the field as useless meat. Again, his body hit the unforgiving ground, tumbling relentlessly until he came to a stop. Fearing that he was to be crushed, Armin struggled to move, only able to shift onto his knees before letting out a choked breath. His ribs were definitely badly bruised, but thankfully not cracked. Attempting to blink away the dust and blurriness from his eyes, Armin watched as The Female Titan yet again tossed Connie into the air – the teen heading nowhere near her giant frame. The teen descended to the plain, shooting a cable into the earth – his only option as he released the gas in his gear's chambers to slow his speed before hitting the earth. Luckily, the teen didn't roll, only stumbled roughly with his loss being a tooth as his knee bent into his chin. Still, Connie struggled to stand due to the wind being knocked out from him.
'She's so fast!' Armin thought frantically. 'Her movements, they're faster than Rogue's! I never even saw her hand coming when she swatted away my horse! What she makes up for her lack of strength is speed! The way she runs! The way she snags our cables – she's faster!'
The Female then prowled slowly to the buzz cut teen, face wearing an almost disinterested look with the goal of simply stepping on the downed Scout. However, before she took another step, the titan paused and swiftly and effortlessly lifted a hand to catch an incoming Jean directly into her palm.
"Jean!" Armin cried weakly as he watched The Female Titan lower her opposite hand from her nape – feeling no other need to cover it. "Jean no!"
The long face teen gasped for breath as the titan began to squeeze tighter, mouth pulled into a barely detectable smile in pleasure as she viewed the teen's furious and reddening face while he wheezed for air. The titan then tilted her head in entertainment, slowly lifting her thumb and pressing it roughly onto the male's scalp – the creature unmistakably humming in boredom, blue flashing to the two other teens before looking back to her captive.
'She's mocking both of us! She's killing him slowly and making sure we're watching! She's torturing us! Jean! I have to do something!'
Before Armin could conjure up even the slightest plan, he reflexively lifted the handle to his gear and aimed a cable – the hook implanting itself into The Female Titan's eye. The monster screeched with agony and dropped Jean to the ground. Armin quickly pulled the cable out just before the titan lifted a hand to her steaming eye socket. His blood ran cold as she immediately looked to him with her good eye – one that was completely corroded with rage. Armin became still as stone like an interrupted deer as The Female Titan snarled and raised her fist to bring it down upon him – most likely deciding that he was worth killing after all.
'Goodbye Mikasa and Rogue. Thank you for your love and friendship. My time has come.'
Armin simply sat, accepting his fate and waiting to be plunged into the realm of eternal blackness – ready to search for the light at the end of the tunnel. However, nothing happened. He went nowhere. Curious and scared as to why, Armin gradually opened his eyes to see something that he did not expect.
The Female Titan was just as frozen as he was, a few meters from him and looking into his own Caspian irises with hers wide in what the blonde could only determine as bewilderment. All was quiet as her hand still hung in the air – stopped from its assault. Armin blinked in disbelief, why did she –
Suddenly, the titan lowered her hand and leaned forward to where she was less than a meter from his body – making him cringe and nearly soil himself to know that she had decided to make a meal of him. To his surprise however, The Female Titan only sniffed – nostrils flaring wildly as she pressed on, ruffling his hair and causing his skin to prickle all over. Armin watched tensely as her irises shrunk as she suddenly lifted to her knees to sniff the air, head quickly rotating to the west, eyes hooked in the direction before turning her attention to him once again. Seconds passed, the titan looking almost conflicted. He stiffened. What was going on? Why did she stop in her attack?
Hearing a familiar sound of several lumbering gates, both the teens and the titan looked behind them to see one stumbling normal headed their way. Armin watched as The Female Titan smiled widely at the sight before looking upon him once more in satisfaction. The skinless titan then lifted herself upright and turned to run in the direction of her interest.
Armin slowly arose, eyes wide as fruits as they continued to watch their mysterious foe vanish from their sight. His heart pounded.
'Is she doing what I think she's doing? Did she smell him? My god, she had to have – wait. Rogue, he looked the same when he smelt the scent at the church. Could it have been The Female's? Hold on. Could this really be what I think it is?'
Feeling himself being lifted by both a battered Connie and Jean, Armin turned back to the advancing seven-meter; mind still submerged in swarming thoughts.
'She's so smart. She left us here to die by the jaws of that titan so she could get a head start.'
Still lost even as Jean shoved him up on Connie's horse and forced himself upon the steed as well, Armin shivered as the possible scenario and facts settled in.
They were all in grave danger.
"Damn horse! Why the hell doesn't she come back! She's alive, I saw her run off!" Jean muttered angrily as he whistled for his horse for the umpteenth time, saliva gliding down his fingertips and chin while he produced an echoing note.
"I can't believe that just fucking happened!" Connie muttered shakily as he pulled another roll of fresh gauze from their first aid. "I thought she was going to eat you!"
Armin swallowed painstakingly as he instinctively rubbed away the dried blood on his brow that had leaked from a large cut. They narrowly escaped the incoming normal – all of them piled onto one horse that could barely hold their weight. Now, still upon barren land with each of them having repairs to do to their gear, the three of them had taken refuge among a small patch of short trees and thankfully away from any incoming titans. Since The Female's departure, Armin's brain was caught off in a flurry of explanations and specifics. Could his current hypothesis really be true? Or did she have other intentions? He winced as Connie began to gently wrap the gauze around his head; from unwillingly and roughly meeting the earth three times he most likely had a small concussion or a nasty bruise.
Jean then pulled an emergency flare from Connie's saddle and fired the round, solemnly putting the tool back. "Well, hopefully someone will see that emergency signal – of course I doubt that they'll have two extra horses in tow. We barely made it on Connie's. We can't escape any large titans with three people on one little horse." The teen sighed. "Most likely we're screwed."
"I wouldn't say we don't have a chance Jean." Connie cut in as he still attended to Armin's wound. "We're not at the rear of the rank so there has to be someone behind us."
The blonde swallowed, catching a hint of blood from a busted lip. He opened his mouth to speak but Connie intervened.
"Hey Armin, why did The Female Titan not kill you when she had the chance? Do you have any ideas why?"
Feeling that the other teen was done with his aid, Armin slowly got to his footing, facing the two with the most serious and stern expression he could muster through his panic. "I… know why. But before I get to that, I've realized something else about her."
"The Female Titan, she didn't only corral the titans from yesterday on us – she led us to that village so she could have those titans kill all of us at once. She set a trap. She destroyed the depot on purpose. My guess as to how she did so was that she lay in wait from a distance where Rogue couldn't pick her up. She remained there for some time until she smelled us coming and then made her move. Of course, she may have seen us on the expedition where we united with Rogue – she most likely saw him at the very end of the mission when he went behind Wall Rose with us. In other words, the reason for her actions is to get the Scouts out of the picture so she can get to her real target. The Female Titan knows we can kill her and knows that we are the only ones standing in her way."
Jean folded his arms, shifting his weight. "So – you're saying that she's after Rogue?"
Connie raised brow. "Wait, why is she after him?"
Armin found himself looking to his shoes, knowing his next statement would be hard to understand. "As far as that's concerned, I have just one theory right now. It's probably going to sound ludicrous but just hear me out. When The Female Titan wrecked the storehouse, she left some sort of concentrated scent that only Rogue was able to pick up. When he smelt it, he reacted in a similar way she did – at the time he looked almost stimulated and bothered in some way by it."
Armin watched as his words gradually began to seep into the two recruits before him, the statement slowly gaining meaning. Simultaneously, their brows rose in disbelief and their jaws went slack.
"Armin… you're telling us that The Female Titan is –
"It's the only clear theory I have now Jean." Armin added. "It does make some sense if you think about it. Of course, we're dealing with a whole new thing to humanity here – so there is always the possibility that this could be something else en –
Before the blonde could finish a loud bang could be heard from behind them, provoking the small party to turn and see a relieving signal flare. Hurriedly, Jean pulled out a pair of binoculars and looked to the source – mouth transforming into a broad grin.
"It's Mikasa and Krista!" The older teen informed with enthusiasm. "They also have two horses in tow!"
Armin gulped, as thankful as he was to see his friend; he feared how she would react when he told her. Mikasa was very delicate when it came to troubling topics concerning Rogue, most likely due to their strong bond ever since they first met. In terms of emotion – Mikasa was much more touchy when it came to the titan's well being.
Immediately upon approach, the dark haired teen dismounted her horse in shock. As quick as her feet could carry her, Mikasa came to address him and the rest of the group with Krista gathering the horses close behind.
"Armin?" Mikasa asked, voice laden in concern. "What happened to all of you?"
"Yeah, Armin you're hurt pretty bad!" Krista chimed in. "Connie and Jean – you're pretty banged up too!"
He hesitated, heart drumming just as fast as it was during his first encounter with the relentless titan. His legs felt weak beneath him, but he had to do what needed to be done. "Mikasa, we were ambushed by another intelligent titan, except this one wasn't friendly like Rogue and had a bloodlust."
The girls' faces fell, Mikasa went pale.
"W…what? Another intelligent titan like Rogue?" She stammered, athletic build stiffening but hands visibly trembling. Krista too, looked spooked to the point where it appeared as if she had seen a ghost.
"It was skinless!" Connie quickly lectured. "But the biggest difference was that it was –
"Female." Armin interrupted, knowing that they were losing precious time. "The titan was female."
Mikasa's eyes widened.
"A female titan?" Krista stammered. "I've never heard of them existing."
Armin nodded and quickly mounted one of the spare horses. "Yeah, The Female Titan was the cause of the ambush at the depot yesterday. Today she also corralled a group of titans to all but take out the right wing spotters. The group has stopped advancing as far as we know due to the lack of a large number of them." He paused; taking a deep breath and making sure all of his signal flares were ready. "Mikasa, Krista – there's a lot to explain that I can fill you in on the way, but I can say that The Female Titan is targeting Rogue for a reason that could be a natural one or another entirely."
"She's after Rogue?" Mikasa spoke, expression quickly changing into one that looked dark and deadly – one riddled with a sense of overwhelming determination. The teen's eyes narrowed as she quickly climbed back into her saddle and guided her steed to neighbor his own. Mikasa continued to look at Armin firmly, a fire seemingly lit in her grey eyes. "Let's go then. We'll get the bitch taken care of before she comes into contact with him." The young woman muttered enigmatically, speaking in a tone that would make the cowardly produce a bead of sweat.
Armin looked into the direction that the titan had gone, nodding to himself. "I'll explain the details for her reasons as we go. Erwin needs to get this message and fast. However, The Female Titan has phenomenal speed that I can say surpasses Rogue and I doubt that we will get there before she does. Of course, it is a possibly that Erwin could already know. But we must still hurry."
From behind the translucent shield of her glasses, Hange gazed at the open field nervously. They had been riding for hours now and the landscape had grown barren and quiet. There was no wildlife to be seen, the birds were grounded from the open sky. Hange blinked in her analysis. Something wasn't right, it was comparable to a calm before a storm. Neither she nor the rest of Erwin's squad had seen anything but the occasional emergency flare and the black tendrils of smoke signaling an abnormal from the right flank. Something was very wrong.
Hange looked to the Commander to see that his head was high, brow furrowed and face molded into a look of sheer urgency. It was clear that he too, knew that something was deathly amiss. The man was like a stone, but eyes still moving in search of a sign – anything to provide a clue or answer.
"Sir," Nanaba began, cutting the tenseness that hung heavily between them. "Something is up. We haven't seen much response from the right wing spotters. The only communications we've received are emergency and abnormal signals."
Erwin looked to Nanaba, nodding once before gazing forward, clear that he was secretly plotting their next move. Suddenly, the form of Mike manifested from the corner of her eye. The large man quickly brought his horse into the traveling party to become between both a confused Hange and discreetly spellbound Erwin. Mike quickly gained the Commander's full attention, wasting no time in a process of disclosure.
"Erwin, I have urgent news. The front right wing spotters have nearly all been wiped out by another horde of titans."
Hange's face immediately fell. How? How could another horde of titans gather and attack?
"So it was another horde then? Like yesterday?"
Mike quickly nodded. "Yes, but Sir – I and several other witnesses saw that they were corralled by another titan. Erwin, this was another intelligent titan – a skinless one that was clearly female."
The entire squads' faces then matched the scientist's – completely awestruck. A skinless female titan? One that was intelligent – one that was unfriendly? Hange felt her heart pound in what she couldn't decide as excitement or terror. On one hand, the titan was like Rogue and she could be open to experiment on it, but on the other hand the Female Titan was violent unlike their titan companion. One thing that was for sure, if the info was true, they were in serious trouble.
"This new titan – is female?" Erwin continued to question, tone sounding as if he was almost quizzing the man.
"Yes. As hard as it is to believe, it's true. I saw it. Not only that, but I and a few of the other accounts believe that she may be targeting Rogue, Sir."
Hange's eyes widened further, forgetting to steer her mare and almost running into another soldier if not for a quick reaction. Was the Female Titan really heading for Rogue? What could she want with the gentle titan? Did she want his territory or something? Then again, why was she attacking them if she wanted to get to their titan? While her mind was lost in possibilities, Hange continued to observe Erwin – waiting on a crucial judgment call.
The Commander's brows drew together at the news, directing his gaze further upon the horizon – one that was infested with a thick patch of forest filled with giant trees. All eyes were hooked to the man, awaiting his view and any sort of order. "Nanaba?"
"Yes, Commander?" The blonde woman replied, almost surprised by Erwin's calm but serious tone.
There was a slight pause, the man's eyes still on the route before him. "Go message the supply wagons. Tell them to ready the large gauges three miles into the green."
"Yes, Commander. What do you want me to tell the Levi squad?"
Oddly, the tall man kept quiet, face carved into the same look and never changing. "No. We can't brew any further tension. Levi is loyal and I have total confidence that he will know what to do. If Rogue is really the last of his species, he is only to be our final resort."
It was a long moment before Nanaba seemed to understand and departed from the group. Hange cringed at the thought. Hopefully the plan would go off without a hitch. The scientist continued to look beyond at the coming woods. In her head, she began to replay events and scrutinize details of why this particular titan was – wait. Hange's eyes widened.
'Could that really be possible? Is that the reason why? Or is there something beneath this that we are blind to see?'
She swallowed, not knowing how to feel.
Something… something was off. Everything felt wrong. He thought he had felt a slight twinge of unease poking a nerve ever since he had risen with the sun. Of course, upon his little one's departure, he had chosen to ignore it in sake of not promoting worry. Nonetheless, the uneasy feeling wasn't as strong then as it was now. Rogue shuttered in the slightest as he examined his surroundings yet again, taking note of the lack of life and titans. It was just like yesterday – not to mention the flying humans' colored smoke had been few and far between. The only sign of direction that he had seen was the pack leader's green flare fired straight up before them, meaning that their small pack was to keep heading forward. The titan rotated his head to face their path, eyes taking in the view of a forest of giant trees. It wasn't his own woods, but it was slightly comforting to see something that would surround his body and provide leverage for his squad.
Still, he couldn't shake the severe agitation pulling at his strings, unable to cut it away at all. Rogue was reminded of the situation once more as he felt his flesh coat itself in subtle chills, the hair on his scalp rising with his nerves. He looked into the landscape again, trying to capture any movement with his keen hunting eyes – but spotting nothing. The titan stifled a whine. What if something bad had happened? What if his babies were hurt!
What if they were dead?
Rogue tightly closed his eyes, shaking his head in the slightest to burn the thought from his conscious. No. They were fine. He had seen how strong they were yesterday. Deep within the titan, something told him that they were all right – but he hoped that the words of comfort weren't his imagination. Rogue looked down to his advancing pack, noticing their slight looks of question and the Corporal still focused forward – he couldn't see his face. Could they have perceived something was up or were they just wondering why there hadn't been a change in direction? Deciding that it would be best to share his concerns, Rogue turned to Petra who still rode upon his shoulder. "EETTTRRAA?" He asks, quickly grabbing her full attention. "ONNNTTIINNGG RRROONNGG." Rogue paused, trying to conjure up words to describe his distress. "OONNTT NNOO AAHHTT RRROONNNGG… UUTT TTIINNGG NNOOTT RRREEIIIHHT."
To his surprise, she nodded instantly in agreement. "Yeah Rogue, I can tell as well. Something is not right here. We haven't seen a signal from the front lines yet."
Rogue swallowed at her statement. The front lines – a term often used to describe the outer rank. Was it possible that they could have been ambushed by his kin again? If so, that would mean that the titans had broken through the formation and could have gotten to his dear little ones. Then again they were pretty far back in the rank. The idea brought a whine to his lipless maw. They had to be all right! They had to!
"What is the brat whining about now?" Levi queried mutely, finally having broken eye contact with what lay before them.
"EEVVII!" Rogue initiated, wasting no time is sharing what little he knew about the situation. "SSSOONNTTIINGG RRROOONNGG!"
To his surprise, the man hesitated; lips in a firm line and brows knitted together – nearly touching. "You're correct." He finally responded, tone shockingly the same as always despite the dire situation. "There's some sort of threat to the right of us. Right now, I believe Erwin is having us pass through the forest up ahead to try and shake it off." Levi concluded, muttering something else beneath his breath that Rogue couldn't make out or translate.
Rogue found himself entering a state of confusion. Why were they not being rerouted so they could intercept the mysterious threat? There had been no message to switch to just a traveling state. So why were they not formatting to attack? The titan's thoughts halted for a moment as they entered the forest of towering pines – the feeling of having something organic and green high over his head almost surreal. It felt so secure but it lacked the serenity that he had once known. Like the vast plains, the forest was deathly quiet. Looking around, it was clear that the area was a previous human settlement. There were the usual run down residences and the occasional platform up in the trees – the titan concluding that the town was once used as one purely for visiting. The path that they were currently running on was certainly one that used to be like those in the human city made of brick, but now the path was overgrown with a layer of grass and the bricks were either smashed into the earth or horribly misplaced. Rogue swallowed, this was an area where titans had roamed heavily due to unpleasant stale aroma from his kind. More fear settled in. The titans had obviously gathered elsewhere – possibly in the outer rank? The titan looked down at Levi, seeing that the man was only focused on the road before him. However, the others looked just as spooked as he was.
"I don't understand the point of trying to shake the threat here of all places." Oluo argued. "We won't see a titan until it's right on top of us!"
"Erwin had us come through here for a reason. Look at all these big ass trees. In case the treat ambushes us – we have a way to escape." Levi roughly answered. "Thing is, the Commander is most likely up to something. We were not informed of any plan for a reason."
Eld raised a brow. "What do you mean he purposely didn't inform us?"
Rogue watched in suspicion as Levi delivered a hard glare to the blonde pack member who quieted quickly. Rogue blinked, wanting to quiz why but ultimately getting subtracted by something else. The titan looked over his shoulder, ears picking up the echoing sound of vibrations. A loud bang went off, black smoke rising from just beyond a layer of trees, barely thirty meters away.
"It's right on top of us!" Gunter announced. "Corporal, your orders!"
"It must be an abnormal or a whole shitload of them!" Oluo added.
However, Levi did not reply or gesture any order. Much to Rogue's as well as his pack's surprise, the man still kept his eyes on the road.
Suddenly, a strong surge of trepidation rocked him to the core – feeling just like he had the day before. Instinctively, Rogue sniffed to locate a swarm of incoming flying humans, but the other smell was one that chilled his blood. The incoming titan scent… it was the very one he had smelt the day before. It was the exotic musk and something else he couldn't quite place. His heart pounded. He knew something was up! What was going on! Where were his babies! Why wasn't Levi giving him the order!
An extra set of feet pounding the earth joined his own – the earth trembling even more as their pace quickened. Horses threw themselves faster and his hand reached up to place Petra just behind his ear for safekeeping. Swallowing in fear of what was to come, Rogue slowly turned his head just in time to see a lone Scout flying through the air with his back facing them. Everything seemed to be playing out in a slow pace. The soldier's face fell into a look of shock – limbs frozen as he floated with no cables attached to a single surface. Leafs went flying as a collection of trees toppled over to expose a large figure – its hand swatting away the flying human as if it were a lazy fly, blood spraying in all directions. Rogue's emerald eyes grew wide in horror as the titan then sharply turned and leaped through another set of trees – wood falling like rain as the creature landed and then began its pursuit behind him. From his restricted view out of the corner of his eye, he was only able to discern the flash of golden hair, two burning blue orbs, and the titan's lack of tan flesh.
"Rogue! Look forward!" Petra shouted into his ear. "We have to keep running!"
Finding himself doing as she had said, the titan looked forward to see that the small pack had propelled their horses as fast as their legs could carry them, nostrils of the equines flaring wider than he imagined possible. With the titan's mass close behind, Rogue lightened and sped up, making sure that he didn't accidentally step on any ally. His mind went into full terror. The monster behind him was one of the skinless titans, and what he had previously exhibited from their kind – they were nothing but bad news and sheer trouble. Fear continued to sweep through his veins with each step. This titan, since it was the one at the depot, could it have been responsible for the horde? Wait, that would mean that it was –
Rogue's pupils shank to pinpricks. The beast behind him was intelligent, capable of thought and planning just as he was, but instead of his caring demeanor this titan was just as bloodthirsty as the others. Hearing a loud hiss, Rogue peeked from the corner of his eye again to see a flying human shoot a cable forward – only for the monster to snag it in the blink of an eye and smash the helpless soul into a tree with its weight, bark painting red. Then like lightning, the creature turned and caught another soldier's wire – yanking the human back into its palm where its death came in the form of hunk of bloody pulp. A green pool watched as the creature simply tossed the remains aside without further consideration and kept on with its charge.
Traumatized, Rogue forced himself to look away. It was so fast. By far faster than him – his pack did not stand a chance! The titan's brain began to feel as if it was caught in a raging current. The skinless titan had used some of his moves. It grabbed a Scout and pulled them back to its greedy hands. It had also skipped on indulging from human life juices – what was it doing? Was it after someone? His breath suddenly hitched. Could it have come into contact with his little ones? Surely not! He would kill himself if something had happened to them! Rogue turned his focus forward; they had to take action! They could all die!
"It did the same thing Rogue did! It's catching their cables!" Gunter spoke above the chaos.
"It's a – BITCH!" Oluo declared. "Corporal!"
"Corporal Levi –
However, despite his pack's pleas and the tempest around them, the man remained still and emotionless as stone. Rogue's eyes widened to what he assumed was their furthest limit. Why? How on earth could a man like Levi not be giving a single order nonetheless bat an eye? What was he doing! Did he not have any clue as to how to react?
"Corporal Levi!" Petra called from his shoulder. "What do we do!"
The short male below finally peered over his shoulder, narrow eyes briefly glancing at the group before facing forward again. Much to their surprise however Levi only moved forward.
"So our plan is to just outrun the bitch!"
Levi nodded. "At this moment, yes."
"Sir! What are you saying! We surely can't be going through with this!"
"DO NOT DISRESPECT MY ORDERS." The man spoke sharply, tone like a knife. "We go foreword. In past contexts – we've done the same thing before but different circumstance. Think back. You should all know this."
Rogue observed in confusion as the members of the Levi squad looked at one another in utter seriousness, the tension so great between them that he could sense it. Finally they nodded to one another and flapped at their reins, urging the horses faster. Rogue grunted sharply with abundant puzzlement. Had they thought up a strategy or something? If so, why keep running! It made more sense to fight! From his brief viewing session just minutes ago, the titan looked small and was certainly agile. He himself on the other hand had both brawn and brains to back him up! His frame was excessively muscular and built to fight! Living among humans and learning combat skills, their culture, and teaching him to speak – he was most certain that he was smarter! He could take the vile creature so why hadn't they given him the order to do so! Why were they just running! If they didn't fight – they couldn't win!
The perplexed titan turned to Petra, opening his maw to demand her why and that he needed an explanation. However, she quickly cut him off with a hand.
"Rogue! No matter what! Keep on running! Don't stop!"
His eyes narrowed in resentment. "EEHHYY EII NNOOT ATTACKKK?" He demanded.
"Rogue, you need to run!"
At the lack of response, the titan snorted and glanced over his shoulder yet again, just in time to see the titan grasp a woman and forcefully drag her against the trees – reducing her to bony stumps that the monster simply tossed aside and continued its charge. Rogue looked on in horror as the titan took a hold of another flying human and threw them against the ground to create a puddle of red. The creature moved quicker, lightening its body even further as it charged straight for them – its face looking almost manic. With the monster clearly covering its nape on purpose to avoid its own slaughter, it was clear to the titan that something needed to be done.
"EEVVII! NEEDD TTOO SSTTOOTT IITTAANN!" Rogue pleaded. "IITT KKIIIL SSCCOOUUTTSS! EEE EELLPP EEVVII! EEE EELLPP SSCCOOUTTSS!"
The man only did so much as glance, making Rogue's heart pound. If he broke his promise he would have to see Zackley and that foul human Nile again and would possibly be put out of the Scouts. He couldn't do that. He couldn't be away from his little ones again – especially with all three of them being part of the same profession. Recalling his intimidation tactics that usually sent titans heading far away from him, Rogue decided that it was worth a shot, perhaps the titan would get the message and go back to whatever hell it came from. With his decision made, Rogue peeked over his shoulder yet again and let loose a rippling growl, pupils morphing into slits and nose wrinkled in rage. With his ears pinned back and irises feral from the folds of flesh, Rogue snarled viciously. How dare this titan kill off members of his new family! How dare it even make itself known to him!
Seeing no change, Rogue let out an even louder and disgusting growl. Why wasn't the creature registering his message! Again, he snarled, but then gave in to a threating low roar.
"Rogue!" Petra screamed, hand gripping tightly onto his ear. "You have to keep moving forward! Don't stop no matter what! Trust us! Trust us Rogue!" Petra pleased urgently.
"Rogue! Just listen for once! It may sound ridiculous, but you have to trust us!" Eld called up to him.
The titan's eyes narrowed in aggravation. Their plan didn't make any sense!
Hearing the unmistakable voice, the titan directed his attention to Levi. Although the man's experienced layers kept his devotion to what lay beyond, his words were clearly addressed to him.
"Rogue, I hope you remember our brief exchange about choice and judgment calls last night. Listen, you can either charge headfirst into a battle with unforeseen circumstances or you can trust your comrades and hope for the best. Personally, I never knew which was better. But I suggest that you make the choice that you will regret the least."
The titan absorbed the Corporal's words like a sponge. Of all the lessons that Levi had given him, this one seemed to be of the most importance. It was the very one that put life and death into perspective. Rogue's green eyes darted back and forth as he weighed his options. Sure, he could just charge and kill the creature, but he had never been up against another titan who could very possibly have his same level of intelligence. His humans below him though, it seemed that they had a plan. Not only that, but they were considered the best team of titan slayers that ever existed in the Scouts. Rogue gave a quick nod to himself. As much as he was worried for the titan getting to his little ones, he decided to follow the simple order for the sake of keeping all of them alive.
Rogue looked over his shoulder yet again to see the beast beginning to reach for his shoulder, so close to him now that he would consider it a titan's arm length. He flinched, quickly re-positioning the redhead so that she could rest safely on the dip between his neck and shoulder. No. This monster was not going to get Petra, his babies, nor the rest of his adopted family. For a moment, he considered taking the small pack in his broad arms and carrying them off himself until a familiar odor swept through his nostrils: one that he could clearly identify as a human gathering within the trees. From his training, he knew what the Scouts were planning to do. It was brilliant.
"Cover your ears." Levi quickly ordered as he pulled a flare gun from its holster and set the only round that didn't have a color to code it. Rogue recognized the round – a very unpleasant one to his ears that the flying human pack usually used to warn or signal one another in such a wooded environment – a round that Rogue had scarcely seen used. Knowing how sensitive his hearing was – far greater than that of a human's, Rogue carefully encased his ears in his hands just seconds before the Corporal pulled the trigger. A high-pitched ringing echoed throughout the wood – his weak protection making his eardrums vibrate with irritation. When the single note faded, Rogue glanced behind him to see that the titan was shaking itself from its stupor before bounding forward, hands reached out angrily at him.
Rogue instinctively roared another warning without the shadowing creature responding to his whelm. The titan's flesh prickled, he could practically feel the heat from his attacker right upon him. However, before the other titan could lay a finger to his taught skin, his small pack passed through a barricade of hidden soldiers – feet carrying him away in the nick of time as many loud blasts met his ears followed by a beastly cry of sheer agony. With the sounds of cables penetrating flesh, Rogue forced his head to turn around the view that where the titan had been before was shrouded in opaque dust and smoke. Hundreds upon hundreds of cables held their foe in place. Rogue nodded to himself in satisfaction. From his teachings to the flying humans, they had opted to have the barb and barrel cannons placed at all levels. The tactic was so well done that he admittedly didn't doubt that he, if in a similar situation months prior, wouldn't be able to free himself from the trap. He was positive that this titan wouldn't get away.
"Alright, I'm leaving for a bit to discuss a few things with Erwin. Petra, you and the others take Rogue to a safe place in the forest and leave your horses." The man concluded as he quickly launched into the air from his saddle and went into the direction of the fray.
"Yes, Sir!" Gunter exclaimed as he began to lead the way, leaving Rogue questioning again. Why were they not including him the capture? He could easily kill the monster while it was caught with no effort whatsoever. He blinked, trying to replay the edgy moments of the chase yet again – coming across a thought that made him wonder. This titan – was it targeting someone in particular?
Levi angled himself through the maze of trees as he made his way to where Erwin had set up the trap, trying to decide if the knot in his chest was bewilderment or anger. Looking upon the pursuing titan had made him do a double take. In all of his years on the Corps, the man had never seen or heard of a female titan before. It was just one of those things written off long ago as impossible. Yet here they were with one in their clutches – one that was clearly intelligent. Levi's eyes narrowed further as he began to make out soldiers among the branches – searching for the veterans and the Commander. He was displeased about being left in the dark about Erwin's plan to use his squad as bait. Then again, he could understand why. It was clear that The Female Titan had a specific target in mind. That much was evident the way it just killed and tossed bodies aside – like they were just in the way and had zero value. If The Female Titan treated humans this way, it meant that there was only one possible target in his squad. As to why the titan would target him, Levi had not a single clue.
Finally, Levi spotted Erwin, Hange, and Mike perched upon a high branch observing the scene below them. They acknowledged his arrival with a brief glance and a nod before looking back to the titan ensnared below. The Female was oddly quiet, gaze fixed forward but the creature clearly listening. Instead of thrashing, the titan was mostly still, only shuttering in the cables sticking out from every part of her body. His brow stiffened, seeing that the titan's hands were cradled over its nape protectively. He glanced to the many cables and traps, studying them. Yes, there was no way this monster would be escaping.
"My apologies, Levi." Erwin began without sparing him a glance. "But I'm sure you understand why I had to make the decision to not tell you the plan of luring this titan into our trap. I didn't want to risk Rogue overhearing and acting too quickly. I suppose you get the reason why we couldn't have that happen."
He only exhaled sharply, although the explanation was firm and withheld itself, he still felt peeved. Deciding that the fact wasn't worth worrying about, Levi brushed it aside and proceeded to address the question at hand. "So, do we have any idea why this bitch is after Rogue?"
"I'm thinking that it's some sort of territorial issue." Erwin replied. "This area used to be Rogue's domain, but during his absence The Female could have taken it over. Her assault could just be her way of defending her territory and keeping Rogue from reclaiming it."
"It's our only solid theory so far, but if feels like it has lots of holes in it." Mike supported.
Realizing that Hange had been rather quiet, Levi glanced to the woman who was looking to the titan in what appeared to be a trance. His brow rose in slight confusion, seeing that her body was stiff and her breathing was restricted. This was highly unlike Hange, especially in light of a newly discovered titan. She should have been screaming in joy. He wasn't sure if he should be thankful or worried.
Hearing the sound of grappling hooks retracting and leaves rustling, Levi turned to see Nanaba and Molbit approaching them, taking one long look at The Female Titan before turning to both he and the Commander.
"All of the recruits are accounted for including Ackerman and Arlert. They are perched on the border of the forest to keep other titans from entering. Sir, Arlert gave me a –
"I think I know why The Female Titan is after Rogue."
Surprised to hear the woman break her silence with such a serious tone, the five turned to look upon Hange who was now facing them, eyes wide and looking more serious than Levi had ever seen her.
The Commander raised a thick brow, stunned by the scientist's abnormal behavior. "What's your suspicion?"
To Levi's further surprise, she dithered, bringing her palm to her chin before facing the others. "Well – it will sound very barbaric at first, even I thought it was impossible at first. However, the more I thought about it and compared the situation with the present facts – the more my theory started to make perfect sense."
Levi blinked almost tiredly, folding his arms to lean against the tree. What could possibly have been so bizarre that Hange herself would react in such a way that he could compare to sharing news that a mother's son or daughter had died by a titan attack. "What?" He demanded, sounding much more cold than he intended.
Hange glanced back to the Female Titan, observing the creature's eyes shift to view them before looking away. Suddenly, the messy haired woman bore a big smile on her face – Levi knew her silence was too good to be true. The woman giggled a bit before positioning herself like a teacher lecturing students, ready to address the news in her usual annoying manner.
"Ah! The reason why The Female Titan is going after our lovely Rogue is because she is looking for a desired mate!" The woman spoke almost proudly.
At her ridiculous statement that just trumped all of her other outlandish statements, Levi instantly lifted himself from the tree. "What?"
"Squad Leader – do you realize just how –
"Hange – what makes you think –
"Just listen! I know this sounds silly, which is saying a lot, but hear me out!"
Levi's scowl deepened. "Fine. I want to know how in the hell you came up with this bullshit. Of all the theories you've ever come up with – this one takes the cake for stupidity by far."
However, she only kept her blissful smile. "Well, to start I'll add to the obvious fact that we are dealing with a male and a female titan." Hange addressed as if her crowd were four year olds. "In some species of animals, it is the female that seeks out the strongest of males to sire the strongest offspring. The Female noticed our lovely and handsome Rogue and decided that he would suit her fancy."
"Oh god, Hange."
"Oh yes Levi! At the depot, she left her scent for Rogue to find and that only a male titan could smell. If you noticed Rogue's reaction to it, I'd say he got a little aroused by her scent! The Female Titan wants nothing more than to mate with our gentle giant! Using her intelligence, The Female herded the titans together to take us out of the picture. She didn't want to tire herself out for the mating process once she reached Rogue!" Hange squealed, only making the short-tempered Corporal grimace at her accusation.
"So Hange, the reason why we're in this fucking situation we are in now is all because this titanic bitch is in heat and wants Rogue to bend her over?" He growled, not giving a single damn how explicit he was sounding. As he expected, Hange only seemed to get even more enthusiastic.
"You don't have to say it that way Levi, but yes! For the first time in humanity's history we are going to experience firsthand just how titans reproduce! Oh I'm so excited!"
"Hange, in case you haven't noticed – titans lack genitals –
"Visibly Levi! Visibly!" Hange denied happily. "For all we know, titans could be like lizards and their sexual organs would be on the inside of them!"
His hand glided across his face. Hange had just broken a new barrier of weird.
"Just think everyone! Titans mating and titan babies! There are so many questions! I wonder how they exactly mate? If their genitalia is on the inside then perhaps like nearly all living creatures, the male mounts the female."
"I wonder how the gestation process goes?" The woman continued, speculating with the most blissful look upon her face. "Do they lay eggs or do they have some sort of pregnancy like mammals? I wonder how long the gestation period lasts, a few months or maybe just a few weeks? Oh! I wonder if titans are like these things called seahorses where it is the male that carries the fetus till full term? It could be possible since there is obviously a lack of females in the titan population. Ah! I wonder if it would just be one baby or a litter of them! Litters seem possible because the titan count is so great!"
"HANGE." However, even though he had raised his voice, the woman still continued.
"How could the babies be born? If they do things like mammals, then I bet it's some sort of live birthing process! With their anatomy, maybe it's similar to humans or perhaps they just throw up the babies like they do pellets…
"SHITTY GLASSES!" Levi yelled, finally halting the woman's rambling with Hange looking at him like she had just discovered the cure for cancer. "First of all, shut up. Second, if this is some sort of sick fantasy of yours that you've brought into all of this, I will be very glad to do the honors of feeding you to a titan. And if this is the slightest bit true, I'm not sticking around to watch two titans have a romantic dinner or fuck beneath the sunset."
"Actually Corporal," Nanaba began level headedly. "When I spoke to Arlert he even suspected the same thing."
His face fell. Armin Arlert had said the same?
"Now that I think of it," Mike intervened. "I remember a lesson in school I attended as a kid that talked about how some females of certain species travel great distances just to find their perfect mate. Maybe titans have the same premise."
The Corporal remained still, completely spellbound. Even Mike and Nanaba agreed as well? It was so insane! Yet, the more he went over things that had happened – the more he realized that Hange had a valid point and what could be a true theory.
"Even if this is true Section Commander, it would be very unwise to allow such a thing to happen." Erwin started, making Hange's motivated face turn into a look of disbelief.
"Wait, what do you mean? This would help us find out more about the titans Erwin!" Hange spoke pleadingly, for the first time arguing against the man.
The Commander remained impassive. "I do realize that Hange, but with The Female Titan's less than docile demeanor, I cannot trust such a thing to take place with Rogue. If he is indeed the last of his kind, then we cannot risk it. For all we know, titans could be like black widows and mantises after the process of mating – devouring the male afterwards. This is a shot in the dark that I'm not willing to take."
Levi watched, remaining reserved while Hange looked as if she were to burst into tears as she gave a shaky nod, severely disappointed. He sighed. "What's your call Commander?"
Erwin looked to the titan who had her eyes upon them for the entire duration of the awkward conversation. "We have no other choice but to kill it. It's a threat to us so we cannot use it. If this titan were the opposite, then I would consider otherwise. Levi, if you would, cut the thing's hands away and strike her nape. Let's end this so we can get back on the right route to Shiganshina."
"Yes, Sir." He concluded as he revealed his blades and came to the edge of the limb. The Female Titan was just as she was, blue eyes still angrily staring at them with her body trembling in rage – the creature knowing what was coming. He then began to judge the angle of his approach, knowing it was best to cut at her wrists to sever the hands entirely. Like with all titans, he would have to impact forcefully to sever a limb. Calculating his execution, Levi shot forth his cables and launched himself from the massive branch. Pulling the trigger on his hilts, the release of gas propelled him at frightening speeds, the g-force pushing at his chest. He then began his signature spin that not many soldiers were capable of doing – an attack that sliced flesh from bone without fail. Without so much as blinking, his blades met the wrists of the titan.
However, instead of the satisfying sound of smoothly ripping flesh beneath steel, a violent vibration swept up his blades and up into his shoulders. The man flew unbalanced, hitting a neighboring tree hard and knocking the wind out of him. Immediately, Levi peered down at his blades, cursing loudly as he saw them.
Or rather what remained of them.
Both of his blades had been shattered, barely leaving half in tact. His eyes narrowed in frustration, it was as if his blades had been shattered like glass. Angrily, he looked up to the source of the cause, seeing something that he had not expected. Covering The Female Titan's hands and nape was a blue tinted, but translucent and hard surface. It caught every ray of dappled light like a gem. Crystal, hard crystal that had somehow formed on the titan's skin, the substance looking similar to the plates covering The Armored Titan's body. This wasn't good.
Before Levi could yield his blades and shout up to Erwin that the cannons would be needed, the Corporal spotted The Female Titan's smug smile, one that transformed into a nasty grin as the crystal covering began to spread and grow all across the titan's body.
"What the hell!"
"What is the bitch doing?"
"Is she – is that crystal?"
"The Female Titan – is hardening her skin?"
His eyes narrowed. Why was this thing putting up a struggle when it knew it had nowhere to go! Levi then propped himself back up safely on a branch to replace his blades and begin a strategy – but he was halted by the sight of the crystal rising up from the titan's pores – pushing several of the cables out with ease.
"My god! The cables are coming out!"
"Prepare the cannons!" The Commander yelled from somewhere above.
However, the order was too late as The Female Titan's body was covered completely in a translucent sheen, every cable holding her previously stripped away and laying upon the forest floor below. All watched in horror as the crystal shield broke away into thousands of pieces, imbedding themselves into the bark of trees and a few unlucky legs by force. Before Levi could finish filling his blades, The Female Titan hoisted the cables in hand and pulled, tearing many of the barrel shots and barb cannons from their crevices. The sound of cracking wood and a barrage of screams sounded among the trees. A thick screen of steam appeared in the air as The Female Titan then charged back into the forest, vanishing completely from the Scouts' view.
Several seconds passed before the air became clear and visibility was restored, revealing the aftermath of what appeared to be the destruction of a gale. Levi cursed loudly just as Erwin came to rest on the very branch, expression difficult to read as he glared into the direction that the titan had disappeared.
"So, do we pursue?" Levi forced trough his teeth.
The taller man exhaled, one that was laced in both discomfort and augmentation. "Yes. We are to pursue and execute. If what Hange said was true, then we cannot let that occur and if this is a territorial dispute – then it is crucial that we stop her from getting to Rogue. With that hardening ability, I don't know how he will fair. Of course Levi, her reasons for going after Rogue could be something else that we have missed or that we cannot see at all."
Levi's brows narrowed even further. "I guess it's true what they say. In some species, the female is the most dangerous."
Deep in the forest, the afternoon sun peeked through the gaps in the spotty canopy. It was quiet, the animals were beginning to settle but the tenseness of the situation still left a stiffness that he couldn't explain. The small pack was gathered at a large tree, Rogue leaned casually against the trunk, arms folded and legs crossed while Petra sat next to him on the branch, stroking his ear affectionately. Gunter and Eld were seated nearby, drinking from their canteens while Oluo rambled on about things that the titan didn't truly care about. Truthfully, his mind was lost. Why was that titan not eating the humans? It was smart, so did it have a reason for killing them? Why was it so interested in someone in their pack? Perhaps it was trying to get to Levi? It could have wanted revenge for all the titans the man killed. Then again, why was it reaching to him? Could it have wanted Petra? His sweet Petra? No that couldn't be, even so he would have never let the creature have her – and just like he would for his little ones, he would fight to the death to protect her. He loved Petra, the redhead reminding him so much of his Carla.
Rogue's brow creased as he thought deeper. Could that titan have been after him? If that was the case then why? Did it want revenge from him? Did that monster want his territory? The titan shifted, leaning into Petra's soothing touch further. It did make sense. They were on the outskirts of what he used to patrol. Perhaps the titan liked his hunting grounds or simply just wanted his nest. He couldn't say for sure, but the reason felt likely.
"Are you thinking about something, Rogue?" Petra questioned kindly, pulling him from his stash of thoughts. "You look like something is bothering you."
Rogue dithered, debating yet again if he wanted to share his worries in sake of disquieting others. "AAHHSS TTIITTAANN CAASSEE NNEE?" He gave in, tone innocent.
The young woman looked into his shining green orbs before rubbing her chin. "Yes, it was."
He nodded, taking her answer into account. "TTHHOOTT SSOO. NNAAYYBBEE TTIITANN AANNT NNYY NNEESSTT."
"That could be." She speculated. "It sounds very likely doesn't it?"
"Meh, I think the bitch was somehow attracted to him." Oluo cut in, propping a boot upon a knot in the branch. "He's got all the qualities of a good suitor."
Petra scoffed. "Yeah, unlike you Oluo." She beaned curtly and cunningly. "Don't you agree with me Rogue?"
Getting the pass at humor, the titan nodded, forcing a small grin to form on his abnormal facial structure that in turn had Oluo roll his eyes.
"I wonder if the deed has been done yet." Eld began. "We're too far to hear them out here."
"I would suspect so." Gunter replied. "They had the thing tied up good so it couldn't put up a fight."
"I bet the titan was dealt with and they are just taking down the canons so we can be on our way." Petra added before turning to Rogue, a smile present upon her face as she stroked the cartilage of his ear again. "I think Levi said that in a few days we should be in Shiganshina. Just think Rogue, once we seal the wall and clear the remaining titans, we can probably set up another headquarters! Maybe it could be in the cove!"
The titan smiled crookedly, not caring about his look of ignorance as he let out a rumbling purr and nuzzled his cheek into her small body. He loved the idea of his little ones and new family living together in his cove. It was a moment he looked forward to. Of course, at the thought of Armin and Mikasa and their whereabouts, he froze and all the worry swept back over him. "EETTRRAA… EEERRREE AAIIBBIIEESS AATT?"
Noting his tone, the young woman was quick to soothe. "Don't worry. Most likely they are perched high up above the tree line making sure that no titans enter the forest." Petra paused, looking to Eld. "We should be getting the signal to move out soon so we can reunite shouldn't we?"
Eld looked up through a large hole in the canopy. "Yeah, we should be getting another signal soon from the Corporal. I wonder why they haven't said anything. Do you think they could be taking the time to examine the thing? I bet Hange wouldn't let them kill it before she took down notes and got samples."
"Psh! Yeah that's probably the case. Hange always has to let her fetish for titans get in the way of things" Oluo spoke smugly. "For science as she always says!"
Not pleased with Oluo's brand of fun, Rogue snorted in defiance.
"HHANNGGEE NNOORREE SSNNAARRTT DDAANN YOOOUU." He replied, making the others laugh and Oluo turn a shade of crimson – a sight that pleased him.
"Rogue does have a point." Petra beamed, the man producing a sweat.
"Well, he's the one who thought that the Corporal was a teenager and that a potato was a heavier loaf of bread!" Oluo defended, using Levi as leverage yet again in an attempt to impress Petra. Rogue sighed, but letting a devious smile pull at the corners of his mouth.
"EEETTRRAA IIKKKEE NNNEE NNOORREE." Rogue said with cunning, watching in pleasure, as Oluo's face only grew redder.
"Suck up." He muttered, turning away leaving the titan to smirk and gloat in his little victory.
"Eh, don't sweat it Oluo, there are plenty of birds to roost with out there." Gunter teased. "Petra is just interested in tall guys with a lot of muscle right now." He laughed with Eld snickering beside him.
Knowing just who Gunter was referring to and what he was meaning, Rogue let out several cavernous huffs of laughter, making Oluo's face redder still and Petra give in to more healthy humor. However, their merriment was halted by a clear signal flare rising up over the canopy.
"Well, it's about time." Eld began as he readied his gear with the others. "Looks like they want us to move out."
"To converge with them?"
"I guess so, the formation had to be broken before so it looks like we're going to regroup."
"We best be heading out then." Petra agreed as she settled herself onto his shoulder. "Rogue and I can lead. He'll be able to locate Levi pretty easily."
"Sounds good, lead the way you two."
Rogue nodded in compliance and started off. The titan sniffed, able to easily gather the smell of the Scouts from the westward wind. His senses then began to extinguish the scent of bleach and other disinfectants that came with Levi's musk. Rogue then informed he others with a firm grunt and began to jog forward through the trees. His mind began to wander again, thinking back to the mysterious titan. Never before had he seen a titan with a single shred of intelligence like him. Could it have come from far beyond the giant walls like he apparently did? Since it was skinless, perhaps it came from the same place as the Armored and Colossal ones. He blinked pondering harder as he followed the scent of the Corporal. Perhaps when it came to intelligent titans he wasn't as alone as he thought he was.
"My kill count is higher than yours so it doesn't matter that I pissed myself on my first expedition!" Oluo continued, taking part in an odd conversation that Rogue had ignored for the past five minutes, but quickly understanding the underlining meaning of it.
"I know I didn't during my first time outside the walls." Gunter smirked from the rear. "But I can't say the same for Petra!"
"WHAT! GUNTER!" The redhead perched on his shoulder retaliated. "I can't believe you!"
"Hey, don't fret, I think pissing yourself the first time you see a titan is kind of tradition with the Scouts!"
"DDIIDD EEETTT GGOO DDOOUUNN OOONN EEVVVRREEOONN?" Rogue queried, trying to picture a visual of what his pack was speaking of. Of course, instead of a serious answer, they began laughing.
"I think the Corporal's toilet humor may be rubbing off on him!" Gunter joked from the rear. Petra sighed.
"They're idiots." She groaned, but then gave in to a smile. "But I think the answer is something I really should keep to myself."
Taking her reasons into account, Rogue gave a friendly grunt and focused forward. Suddenly, the wind shifted, blowing from behind and forced the titan to establish Levi's location once again. He sniffed in search of the familiar sterilized scent, nostrils flaring fully with his expanding lungs.
His blood ran cold.
Rogue's eyes instantly widened as the realization hit him like a giant cannonball. How! How had it freed itself! Why was it not dead! The monster had hid itself! The breeze had carried its scent away from his nose! It knew that! With panic overcoming his body, Rogue quickly looked over his shoulder to warn his pack.
But he was too late.
A large and skinless hand cut through the foliage and sliced the air. Gunter's face transformed into a frozen fixture of terror – entire body unable to obtain movement as a giant palm encased around the young man's body. Crimson flew trough the air, splattering the green canvas as fingers closed. The skinless urchin then carelessly tossed away the remains of Gunter's form – nothing but a battered corpse with its head nowhere to be found. Burning blues then sat themselves upon the rest of the unlikely alliance and charged forward, the monster set on its remaining prey.
"I THOUGHT THEY KILLED THE BITCH!"
His heart pounded so fast that it felt as if its impact would shatter his own ribs. Feelings began to flood. That – thing had just killed one of his small pack members! A friend! Gunter! That monster was making them their prey! They – he had to do something! That vile creature could kill all of his friends! What if it had killed many of the ones that had captured it! He had to kill it!
"We'll have to intercept it! We cannot let the bitch go for the others! Petra! Tell Rogue to go and check on the others! He's faster than the three of us! We can slow it down and take it out!" Eld ordered, tone far beyond urgent.
His eyes peeled wider, they were wanting him to go ahead? He couldn't protect them that way! He couldn't let them! This titan was too strong! It was too fast! They wouldn't stand a chance! Rogue looked to Petra with frightened greens, seeing that she had taken on a more determined form, preparing herself for battle. No! He wouldn't let her! He couldn't loose her! He couldn't!
"EEETTRRAA! YUUUU –
"No Rogue!" She forcefully denied, face angrier looking than he had ever witnessed. "We can handle this! We're the elite squad! You need to go see Levi, Erwin, and Hange! You have to protect them!"
"NNOOO! EEIII SSRROONNGG! EEIII SSTT –
"ROGUE!" Petra cried, voice more urgent – a slight amount of eye water gracing her cheek even, evidence of a wetting anger. "YOU MUST GO ON! YOU ARE OUR HOPE! YOU ARE HUMANITIE'S HOPE! ROGUE, YOU'RE ARMIN AND MIKASA'S HOPE! WE'LL BE ALL RIGHT! JUST GO!"
Despite the thunder of feet, the forest seemed to go silent for Rogue. His mind was yet again conflicted. Many lives were at stake, but he didn't want to leave his pack! Yet – there were others that were not as strong as his squad. If the strange titan were to get to them, get to his little ones – he was sure that there would be nothing. This must have been what Levi had spoken of. He had to go with a choice – hopefully one that he would not regret. Warily, he returned his gaze to Petra who was more than ready. He had to.
"EEEII TTTRRUUSSTT YUUU."
Her eyes widened, Rogue nodding for her to proceed into the chaos. He watched as she glanced at the pursuit before looking back, face twisted into a dangerous smirk, one filed to the brim with both fortitude and certainty.
With that the upbeat redhead flew from his shoulder to join forces with both Eld and Oluo. Rogue then turned and headed for the others, struggling to keep his over stimulated nerves at bay. But he had to keep going. He had an order. However, he couldn't help but monitor the scene unfolding behind him. Without so much as a word, Eld signaled to his two other allies using a hand movement that he could classify as vague. He watched as each of them then approached the racing creature. He swallowed. Head first? They were attacking head first?
However, before he could make any further or ignorant decision, the three seasoned individuals got into a completely unforeseen formation – Oluo dropped and aimed for the titan's face with both Petra and Eld aligned like a flock of geese. The standoffish man readied is blades, steel glistening in the dappled light as the titan hissed and barred its teeth – ready to bite. But before Oluo could swing the deadly instruments, he unexpectedly dropped in altitude – going right in between the creature's legs. Before the skinless titan could comprehend or follow, Petra and Eld made their move. The two bodies dived at incredible speed – smoke spilling from their gears as they angled themselves in a dizzying spin. Before the creature could put its foot down and halt, cold steel symmetrically cut through ligaments, muscle, and corneas – a perfect execution that rid the monster of one of its most vital senses, sight – the biggest requirement in any sort of combat. Hearing the creature screech in both rage and pain brought a smile to his face.
The titan quickly covered its nape and pressed its back protectively against the open refuge of a towering tree. Steam billowed from the beast's eye sockets, as it simply stood unmoving. Blinded, his pack had the advantage. They could take the monstrosity! They could win! Still running, Rogue couldn't help but to watch further as his allies began their work.
"Remove the arms then take away the tendons in her neck! Let's rip this bitch apart!"
Emerald hues viewed as another equivocal hand signal was given. Like beautiful acrobats, Petra and Oluo climbed into the canopy and then let gravity take them – falling like hailstones with their blades cutting deep into the titan's shoulders. The beast flinched as blood flowed like a lazy waterfall to the lush grass while the three dove in again – removing chunk after chunk of steaming and foul meat from the monster's bicep. After a final nasty slice, the titan's arms could no longer support themselves. Unceremoniously, they fell to its sides, the creature slumping slightly as if it was contemplating surrender.
Rogue's heart lifted as he watched them. They were so skilled! The executed coordinated moves without verbal commands! It was a practice that was only mastered with time. They were in Levi's squad for a reason. They could do what most others failed to do!
"Now let's work our way to the nape!" Eld ordered in triumph with a great amount of controlled rage.
The team of three went into action once again, becoming blurs against the forest backdrop. Petra swooped, blades cutting deep into a tough tendon with Oluo mirroring her attack. He watched as the titan's head lowered, looking almost heavy as if it could hold up its skull no longer. Rogue let loose an excited rumble. The monster was done for! With just a couple more slices into the pale flesh and exposed muscle, the titan would be defeated! They were going to win! They would be victorious!
Eld then positioned himself, coming in for a third assault of the beast's neck, blades drawn, brow stern, and speed great – this would be all that they needed to reveal the nape.
But the unexpected happened. A bright blue eye suddenly revealed itself from beneath golden bangs.
The blonde Scout had no time to react as the titan abruptly turned its head and encased its teeth around Eld's helpless body. With hardly any force at all, giant humanoid teeth caved through delicate skin and bone – severing the poor man in half. At the unbearable sight Rogue immediately stopped in his tracks.
"ELD!" Petra called to her fallen comrade, the titan simply disregarding her and nonchalantly spitting the deceased soldier's legs back to the earth and swallowing the upper torso – a pink tongue gliding across the monster's lips to clean the blood.
Every fear then came back to him, overtaking his body. First Gunter and now there was Eld that had been taken from him. How! How did that titan regenerate so fast! It wasn't even thirty seconds! He had never been able to do such a thing! It was as if the titan had focused all of its energy into repairing a single eye! Rogue let out a hollow wail. There was no way that just Petra and Oluo could defeat the skinless fourteen-meter! He had made a bad decision!
Rogue stilled as the chaos continued, feeling sick to his stomach. Levi's words then floated back to him, meanings taking hold. He had a judgment call – one that he would have to make on the very spot. He had to go save his two remaining squad mates and kill the titan before it got to the other members of his family – before it got to his babies.
So he turned and ran with the intent to aid, making his own path. Consequences be damned. He was going to save and slaughter.
Petra swerved, barely navigating away from a speeding swipe as Oluo launched himself from the canopy, cable implanting just above the titan's nape. His face was placed into an indomitable state, blades ready to pierce.
"DIE YOU BITCH!"
However, as forged weapons met skin – they shattered like translucent barriers covering human abodes, he himself unable to see what could make that possible. The failed impact sent Oluo through the air, body trapped in turbulence – twirling like the ballerina inside his music box. Just as he found himself able to take hold of his hilt and pull the trigger, a fleshless leg curved in a powerful kick like his own – a perfectly executed kick that he had never been able to achieve. Seconds later, Oluo's body was smashed, innards painted across the trees.
All that was left was his Petra.
Rogue charged forward, nearly flying over the brambles and moving as fast as his legs could carry him – all being crushed in his wake. No! No! NO! Petra couldn't die! He couldn't lose her! He had to get there! He had to hurry!
The woman's face coated itself in pure terror, no other emotion becoming present as the titan's blazing blue orb met the human's – ones that were the same shade of amber like his Carla's and held so much love. The titan hissed and charged forward in a sprint, giving Petra no other choice but to flee. However, from her position as she flew awkwardly mere feet above the earth, there was no possibility that she could gain altitude. Rogue watched in horror as Petra cried an ear-piercing shriek, eyes adverting to him for a brief second before a massive foot came crashing down on top of her. Blood shot up the tree and seeped through the gaps of the titan's toes. The monster then slowly righted itself, looking at its work as if it was a great masterpiece – like squashing a bug. The area went silent as death and Rogue stopped.
His heart fell straight through to his stomach, his throat tightening as his eyes filled with heavy tears. Petra, his precious Petra was gone. He would never see her again! Those days of telling each other stories, her scratching behind his ears, her teaching him ways of the world, and their little promises – all of that was no more! He had made the wrong choice!
Water streams down his gaunt cheeks, collecting at his chin before falling to the ground below. A piece of him had just been taken away, another piece that he loved dearly and never wanted to lose or let go. All he had were memories – memories of him making her laugh, letting her prank him during breaks in their sessions, and the feeling of her touch when he was trapped in his nightmare. It was all because he had messed up.
'NO. IT… WASN'T MY… FAULT.' The words echoed deep in his mind, rattling against his skull as he made his realization. No, he wasn't out of line. The only one responsible for the damage done to him, to Petra, his squad, possibly the others – was the skinless titan. Sorrow and self-loathing was then replaced by rage – a powerful surge of anger shaking him to his core. Rogue's beautiful greens grew savage and feral, pupils shrinking to thin slits like a venomous serpent. His dark hair rose and furrowed upon his scalp, ears pinning back similar to a ravenous wolf's. Heat pooled into his belly, heart pounding and his nose wrinkled in resentment. Muscles bulged beneath his skin; steam billowing out from his flaring nostrils and clenched maw. Rogue then announced his wrath with an earthshattering roar infected with malice and his lust to kill. It echoed among the forest, shaking the canopy and sent the small innocent creatures into hiding. To call it grand was an understatement. The ground-shaking howl was nothing but pure concentrated fury. Finally he charged, his prey looking to him in disbelief.
The skinless one quickly rose to its feet just as Rogue's fist powerfully swung, but it caught nothing but a few stands of sunny hair as the fourteen-meter shifted. To his surprise, although the titan was still heavily impaired, it planted a well-placed kick into his abdomen, sending him backwards and a torrent of stomach acid out of his mouth. The ground unearthed beneath his feet until his bulk came to a stop. Rogue snarled ferociously as his wild green eyes stared at the titan before him in pure hated, able to see the monster with clarity.
He became petrified catching a detail that he had been blind to see. The titan was truly unlike any he had ever come into contact with. Recalling the body shape of Mikasa in comparison to his own and Armin's, it was clear. The titan before him was a female. It's facial features, slender build, and busty chest represented a lady's through and through. Rogue's face loosened, falling into complete awe, fists uncoiling and head rising a bit as he continued to look upon The Female Titan. There was something, something else about it – about her that made him chill. He shook his head and continued his spooked gaze. A fragment of something began to spill in his head, something so short that he barely absorbed it. He couldn't explain it let alone place a finger, but The Female Titan felt – so familiar.
It was as if he somehow –
The skinless titan then smiled cunningly.
"HELLO AGAIN… COORDINATE."