A demanding command echoed across the courtyard, ordering Armin to place his fist over his heart in a signature salute. His gaze was fixed forward, a practiced look of determination painted onto his face to mask his insecurity. It had been hard, a sacrifice of sweat, blood, and tears but he had finally done it. After three long years, he and his longtime friend had graduated the cadets.
Armin looked to the group of exceptional people before him while the closing ceremony of their graduation commenced. They were the top ten, top of his class in the 104th cadets. The boy smiled, his attention venturing to Mikasa who stood among them. It wasn't too much of a surprise that she had placed first. Ever since they were small, Mikasa had always been the stronger and braver of the two. During their training, she excelled in everything. Truthfully, Armin was content that he hadn't made the top of his class. His specialty was strategy not full on combat, which had proven to be Mikasa's forte. Rank didn't matter, just as long as they could join the Scouts to help humanity, see the outside world, and reunite with their dear friend.
Yes, placement didn't matter. As long as he and Mikasa were in a position to carry out their plan, he was perfectly fine where he stood.
Soon, the ceremony had ceased and the cadets had migrated into the banquet hall, an incredibly large stone and wood building where a congratulatory feast had been prepared – a selection of food that was slightly better than what they were used to during training. The smell of piping hot tomato soup, garlic bread, and even a fresh roasted ham hovered in the atmosphere and provoked every mouth to water. Armin and Mikasa seated themselves with a full platter at a large rectangular table where many other members of their class sat. Normally, the two kept to themselves when attending breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Although they knew mostly everyone, it was just something they preferred. This time however, the banquet hall was bustling with activity from both cadets and higher ups. Thus, the two took the first seats available to them.
For a long moment, the teens kept quiet between themselves – cherishing the taste of ham for the first time in months. Armin glanced up from his crimson soup, watching Mikasa push a few peas across her plate – obviously thinking. During the past three years, puberty had taken its hold on them. Both now fifteen, they had grown like weeds. Mikasa had shed her girlish touch and had taken a more womanly and athletic frame. Her face was thinner, raven hair cut to her shoulders, and her other feminine features more pronounced. He himself was still much shorter, but taller than when he first joined the cadets nonetheless. Compared to most of the boys in the 104th, Armin was underdeveloped. His shoulders had only broadened a little bit and his muscles were faintly evident. Even his voice hadn't toned down as low as the others. As far as other aspects about himself, Armin remained pretty much the same. He continued to watch Mikasa toy with her food, setting down her spoon to adjust her scarf, gripping the titan's gift to her that she never removed tightly before returning to her task of pushing her peas. Along, with her body's changes, Mikasa's attitude had undergone a transformation. Ever since they had left Rogue, the teen had reverted to her stoic state that she had dawned before. She was more reserved and serious, only speaking openly to a few people. Her face was mostly emotionless, only freeing itself from its stern prison on occasion and around Armin. Of course, he knew why Mikasa had changed. She was living up to her oath that she had made the night their trio had separated, be strong for their mismatched family. However, Armin couldn't help the need but to ensure that her mental state of mind was sound.
"Mikasa?" Armin asked, trying to keep rather low-key in the loud interior. "Are you – okay?"
The teen dipped her head, locks grazing her cheeks as she sat her fork down to the oak surface of the table. "I'm okay Armin." Mikasa spoke softly, a hint of sadness in her voice. "I just – kind of wish…
"That he was here with us?" Armin finished. She nodded, resting her chin in her palm.
"Yeah. It's not the same without him. I bet he would have been proud of us." Mikasa replied. "Armin – do you think he's alright? Admittedly, I often worry about his state of mind. He has been alone for quite some time now." She sighed, unease submerged in her words.
He bit his lip. "I bet he would have been pretty happy with our accomplishment, Mikasa." Armin spoke, purposely leaving out the titan's name just as they had done when referring to their friend in public. "I – hope he's okay, too. Like you, I constantly wonder if he's healthy and sane. Hopefully, we can see him soon." He smiled meekly, getting a similar suggestion from Mikasa in return.
Without warning, several of the other cadets placed themselves at the large table, laughing and in full conversation as they indulged from the celebration's spoils. The two teens sighed, at least they knew the group well. There was Marco Bott, one of the friendliest cadets around and seventh in their class. To his peers, he was known as a great potential leader and by his facial freckles- earning him the nickname 'Freckled Jesus' for whatever reason that no one really knew. Next to him was Sasha Blouse, a brunette with an alarming passion for food – especially meat. Most would call the characteristic disturbing. Sasha would eat nearly anything and any open opportunity she got she would steal a meal from either the officer's pantries or her fellow cadets' plates. Among the group was also Krista Lenz, a small blonde that was a genuine and caring girl that placed tenth in their class. There was also Connie Springer, a short boy with a buzz cut that was not known to be the sharpest blade in the military's arsenal – the first day of training proving quite laughable when he saluted the completely wrong way instead of what was instructed. Mina Carolina and Thomas Wagner were among the group as well as they took their seats. The final person that joined the group was Jean Kirstein. He was a tall boy with two-tone hair, brown below and blonde up top. To most, Jean was well known to be a bit arrogant and say exactly what he thought. Although he could be as stubborn as an ass, his talents in maneuvering with the gear earned him 6th place among the top ten. Another fact that most of the cadets seated at the table were aware of, was Jean's desire to be with Mikasa – an ideal that Armin's dear friend hated for she, like some, were not fond of the upfront individual.
"So," Marco began after savoring a spoonful of soup. "Does anyone here know what branch of the military they plan to go to? I'm sticking to the Military Police. It would be such an honor to serve the king!"
"I think most of the top ten are joining the MP's. Its kind of a natural thing isn't? Sasha added. "Of course, I'm going wherever there is food and something to do."
Connie chuckled. "You always say that Sasha. But as for me, I'm sticking with the MP's. I want to make my parents proud."
"I guess if you didn't make the top ten we still have the Garrison and the Scouts to choose from." Thomas chimed in. "When the choosing ceremony comes, I'll be going for the Garrison."
"Me too." Mina agreed. "Sure, the Scouts are always in need of recruits – but I'd rather avoid contact with a titan at all costs!"
For several long minutes, both Armin and Mikasa quietly listened to the undergoing conversations about choice military branches. Armin swallowed, secretly hoping that he and Mikasa were not to be included. He didn't exactly feel like explaining the reason why the two of them wanted to be part of the Scouting Legion – the branch with a sign up sheet that doubled as a death certificate. Suddenly, Marco turned to them, smile on his face, as he was about to ask the obvious question.
"Hey Mikasa and Armin. Have you two decided where you're going yet?"
"Yeah," Sasha added, talking with food in her jaws. "Are you planning on joining the same branch or separate ones?"
Armin dithered, seeing that all their eyes were upon them. He quickly found himself fretfully intertwining his fingers and biting his lip again while the group awaited an answer. Mikasa then cleared her throat.
"The Scouts. Armin and I are joining the Scouts." She replied simply, her tone flat and stern. As expected, eyes widened at her statement.
"The Scouts?" Krista asked sympathetically. "You were the first in our class Mikasa! Of course, you're the best there is at combat, I don't blame you for wanting to use your skills that you acquired. But…why would you put yourself on the frontline?"
Marco then dithered. "If it's not too much trouble in asking, is there a reason why you two are making that decision?"
Armin's body grew anxious at the teen's words. His mind then began to rapidly search for any lie that could throw them off. Of course, even if he had a lie selected, he wasn't for sure it would be convincing enough. What! What could he tell them?
"Well it goes like this," Mikasa pronounced, her voice low and nearly straining.
Armin blinked in disbelief. Surely not! She wouldn't share Rogue with them. It was too soon!
"Armin's best friend that was also my adopted big brother was unfortunately separated from us at the breach." She paused, obviously choosing her words carefully. "But you can't win any battle if you don't fight even if that means you risk your own life. That's our reasons."
For several tense seconds the teens stared at Mikasa, faces coated with shock and some showing remorse. In their years of being in the cadets, Mikasa had never referred to Rogue in a conversation besides the ones she shared with Armin.
"Wow." Krista began, breaking the long silence. "I didn't know that Mikasa. I'm sorry." She sympathized, voice understanding as usual.
"My apologies Mikasa." Marco added. "I didn't know either."
The raven-haired teen sighed, finally taking a bite of her soup. "It's fine. I never told anyone before." Mikasa spoke quietly, her hand clenching a bit to hold back any emotional urges. With her eye contact on her plate, it was clear to Armin that she wished that she did not have to elaborate further.
"So um, how old was he and what was his name?" Sasha asked innocently as she shoved her bread to her mouth. Armin nearly froze at her words, hoping that Mikasa could pull off an effective lie.
"I'm sorry Sasha, but it's not something I prefer to talk about." Mikasa denied as she placed her gaze back to the eager teens, getting her point across by stern expression alone. Thankfully the group of cadets retreated off the subject and began to adapt to other topics.
"Did anyone see the new cannons the Garrison has?" Thomas began as he took another bite of bread. "They're a major improvement from five years ago."
Marco snickered as he took a drink. "Yeah, the sight of them alone should scare the titans off.
Suddenly, Connie grew quite animated, eyes propelled wide as he quickly sat down his silverware. "That reminds me! The other day when I went into town, I overheard a few Garrison soldiers talking about something amazing! Apparently, The Rogue Titan is back!"
Instantly, Armin immobilized, the words 'titan' and 'rogue' in the same sentence sending him into silent confusion. His blue eyes glanced over, seeing that Mikasa had entered a similar state. Befuddled, the teen remained inaudible as he awaited Connie to elaborate further.
"Wait a minute." Sasha began. "You mean the titan from the Garrison's stories?"
Immediately, Connie nodded enthusiastically. "Hell yeah! According to the guys that I heard talking, they say that it has been appearing just outside of Trost – doing what it does best!"
"Are you serious Connie?" Marco questioned. "No one has seen it since the –
"Yes, I'm serious!" The boy ensured.
Mina blinked in confusion. "Hold on. What's The Rogue Titan?"
For a moment it was silent at the table except for the conversations occurring around them. Connie smirked cunningly, sanding and placing a boot on his seat in an almost smug manner. "The Rogue Titan is only the most monstrous titan there is. He slaughters his own kind mercilessly! They say that he's the physical embodiment of hell and humanity's rage all rolled into one!"
"The story goes that The Rogue appeared from seemingly nowhere." Marco began. "They say that during the breach, it just walked right past all of the Garrison soldiers that were on the ground preparing cannons. Most accounts say that it just completely ignored all of the fleeing citizens and went straight up to a titan and ripped it apart, its roars so loud that they shook the earth beneath the soldiers' feet. After that, it vanished, but now it seems that it's returned."
Armin's heart hammered in his chest. 'Could it really be?'
"Yeah. He's back! The Garrison said it's been appearing outside the Trost district once every month or so. They've been watching it hunt the surrounding titans, witnessing how it rips out their napes with its teeth and beats them to a pulp!" Connie paused, placing both hands onto the table in excitement. "He's a badass!"
The blonde teen's heart nearly stopped. Was it possible? No, it couldn't be. Could it?
"I've heard the stories of The Rogue too actually." Sasha joined, ignoring her plate for once. "I heard that the titan is like thirty meters tall and has razor sharp teeth!"
"Huh? I heard it was twenty meters." Thomas countered, brows raised in confusion.
"That's nothing. I overheard the Garrison saying that it even EATS its own kind too." Connie pressed on. "I bet he has claws that can rip his victims to ribbons as well!"
"That's cool! I wonder if he's like one of those skinless titans or if he's a skinned one." Mina spoke, joining in on the series of speculations.
"I bet he's incredibly strong!" Krista boasted excitedly. "I wonder if he's handsome."
"Handsome?" Connie laughed. "No way would he be handsome! He would be grizzly! The Rogue Titan fights his own kind so maybe he has some nasty scars! Like maybe one over his eye or something."
At his words, Sasha laughed. "Titans heal Connie."
Armin continued to blink, his mind in an uproar as the cadets continued to speculate. Was it just a coincidence? He peered at Mikasa yet again, seeing that her furrowed brow led to the fact that she was sifting through the very same thoughts that he was currently experiencing. 'That can't be Rogue.' Armin thought frantically. 'He's not like that. He – can't be. Yet, at the breach… the way he went berserk and killed the smiling titan that consumed the Jaegers, the way he snarled at the other titans when we rode on him in titan territory… it's possible. Could Rogue really be THE Rogue?'
"Of course," Marco began seriously, eyes looking deep into the wood grain upon the table, brown orbs traveling in the direction of the swirls upon it. "The fact about The Rogue that everyone seems to know is that it's intelligent."
"Wait." Mina interrupted. "It's intelligent?"
"Yes." Marco continued. "It knows about the titan's weak spots, so it has some level of intellect."
"Wow." Krista spoke in awe, baby blue eyes nearly glittering. "I wonder if he's as smart as a human!"
And with that, the unbearable conversation only escalated to a new level, nearly every cadet joining in.
"I bet it knows how to count!"
"It can probably recognize the military's commands!"
"The Garrison said that it actually flipped them off!"
"I heard that it could actually speak!" Connie informed, quickly catching the attention of his peers, but before he could elaborate and the others decide if the fact was indeed a fact or if it was fiction, Jean chuckled, the laugh superciliously executed. It was then still between the teens as they nervously waited for the boy to remove his glass from his lips. Jean sighed, face twisted into a cunning smirk.
"Speaking? The ability to read? It's a TITAN. Sure, it may have some level of intelligence, but in the end it's just a dumb shit like all the others."
Suddenly, Mikasa cleared her throat, nearly making Armin fall out of his chair. Had she come to a similar conclusion like he had? Did she think that Rogue was the titan in question or was she currently acting on a hunch? Whatever the reason, he was frightened. Terrified. Surely Mikasa wouldn't let anger render her into making an irrational decision. Surly she wouldn't speak the truth! The plan would be done for!
"So Jean." Mikasa began, voice showing interest but its tone cold to the core. "Why do you think that The Rogue Titan is just like all the other mindless monsters out there? Enlighten me."
Jean flinched slightly at her request, golden eyes hooked onto Mikasa's dark irises that were shrouded with fury. The teen then casually rested his head onto his hand, nonchalantly taking another drink – obviously trying to act cool to impress the defiant teenager. "Well, it may be intelligent, but most likely the thing only has limited brain capacity. He's like a toddler learning to walk or how to go take a shit someplace besides their pants. It's just the basics." Jean informed before he proceeded with more examples, each more insulting as he continued. Armin observed as Mikasa's pale cheeks took a soft shade of red, jaw clenching in anger. Admittedly, he too, was feeling his temperature rise in frustration.
He wanted to say something in defense, but he couldn't. His mind was still weighing the possibilities.
"Personally, I believe the Military should get rid of it. A titan that's self-aware is just a disaster waiting to strike. Who knows? Perhaps it does have a high level intelligence and it's only putting on a performance to gain trust – and when it deems that the time is right, it adds us to the menu." Jean finished smugly, indulging yet again from his glass as if he had said nothing. From beneath the table, Armin noticed his friend's hands clenching her thighs in rage, but surprisingly kept her stoic expression.
"Well," Krista began, breaking the awkward tension surrounding the table. "At this point I guess it's all very opinionated. Personally," She smiled. "I want to have something to hope for."
"Yeah." Marco agreed, however his eyes suddenly grew large in realization again. To Armin's horror, the teen directed his attention to him and Mikasa once more. "Wait a minute. Didn't you two say you were from Shiganshina?"
For the umpteenth time, Armin's blood ran cold. Goosebumps painted his flesh as his hair stood on end. He couldn't lie about that. Everyone had already heard of he and Mikasa's former residence before the breach. As much as he wanted, he couldn't give false information.
"Yes." He answered softly, watching nervously as the surrounding teens' excitement grew.
"Awesome!" Sasha exclaimed, but then backing off a bit as she realized what she just said. "Oh I didn't mean like that, but since you two were there that day – you must have had a good view of The Rogue Titan!"
"Yeah! Did you see him? He must have been incredible! What did he look like?" Connie asked.
Armin's body only froze further, refusing to thaw to demand. Finally, he came to his senses. He had to get out of the situation – and out of the room. "Unfortunately, no. We must have missed him during the retreat."
"It was quite chaotic at that time so Armin and I were just focusing on survival." Mikasa supported, tone relaxing just as Armin's had.
To the teen's relief, the others backed off within an instant. Armin let out a sigh. They were in the clear.
"Darn, well I guess we can dream until we see him some day." Krista spoke, looking as if she was daydreaming with her elbows resting against the oak surface and chin latent on her palm.
"Just be careful what you wish for." Jean warned before the group began to move on to talking about other things. Seizing the chance, Armin turned to Mikasa who was in her own cone of silence, stress lined across her face. The teen looked at her plate in distaste, obviously having lost her appetite.
"Hey Mikasa." Armin whispered. "How about we step outside for a moment?" He suggested, keeping as low of a profile as he could. "For some fresh air?"
Without a second to waste, Mikasa nodded sharply, but still subtle enough that her emotions were undetected by those around them. Carefully, they rose from their seats and discarded their food before nonchalantly sneaking across the flourishing banquet hall. Stepping outside, a wave of gentle night air and reprieve washed over them. Outside the banquet hall was almost completely void of any soul with the exception of a couple making out in a dark alley. Otherwise, they were alone and free to talk among themselves. As they walked, Armin scrutinized his friend from the corner of his eye. Mikasa was clearly distraught, shoulders slumped and mouth drawn into a thin line. He could tell that she was submerged in a mixture of anger and confusion. However, he was just worried. Was it really true?
The two teens then took a seat on a secluded set of stairs that was placed far from the lively celebration. For a long moment, they were silent – lost in thought in the presence of a star filled sky and a massive full moon, a scene that would have been beautiful if it had not been for the remains of what had just transpired. After several incredible tense seconds, Mikasa let out shaky sigh, grabbing the wool of her scarf fretfully.
"Armin… do you – really think it's him?" She began, her voice trembling like a fall leaf against an early winter wind. "I mean, that's so unlike Rogue. He's so sweet and gentle… it just can't be, Armin. We're talking about a titan who couldn't bring himself to kill a deer and would let you braid his hair." Mikasa alliterated, giving into her emotions for the first time in quite a while. Her pupils then grew. "Armin, what if Rogue truly has gone insane? Could he have really gone mad in our absence?" She questioned, voice pleading and frail.
The boy dithered, startled by her weak demeanor, something Armin had not seen in years. Of course, he wasn't in much better of a state himself. "I – don't know Mikasa. Rogue is so sensitive." He swallowed, a bitter taste filling his mouth. "I mean we know that he was truly affectionate to us, but there were those few times when instinct took hold of him." Armin shuttered. "The night he killed those men, growling savagely and ignoring our pleas when we encountered a trio of titans in the forest, saved Carla from wolves, and when he lost it and tore that titan apart in front of us at the breach – that was the worst of his bad side and what he was really capable of."
"But," Mikasa began, dissecting fact from fiction. "Rogue did those things in defense."
Armin blinked, the cogs in his mind turning rapidly. "Sure, he reacted in defense, but not all of those instances were what they seemed. The one where he lost it at the breach, that was out of sheer anger and rage."
"Armin?" Mikasa questioned. "Where are you going with this?"
The boy found himself petrified yet again, the inconsistencies with Rogue suddenly made sense. Armin swallowed hard. "Mikasa, if it's really him that's doing all of this, then Rogue would be a likely candidate to be The Rogue. That first time, when he slaughtered the titan that killed the Jaegers – perhaps it felt good to him. It was a drug for him. The taste of revenge could have sent a spike of dopamine through his brain – feeling exhilarating. When we returned to the cove that night and he broke down and left – I think he could have killed more titans in the time frame that he departed before returning. He may have liked the feeling – revenge for Carla and Dr. Jaeger." Armin paused, salivating his throat as he prepared to deliver the hardest part that he didn't want to believe. "Mikasa, perhaps in the times that he took care of us, on his walks to get supplies, he released his frustrations on his own. Mikasa – I think that Rogue could have been doing this for years."
The girl turned sharply at his words. "Years?"
Armin nodded. "It's possible. I mean whenever we asked Rogue what he was doing he would always dance around our questions. He always refused to answer anything. I always thought he was trying to hide something." The boy sighed, his shoulders dropping and his elbows meeting his shins.
"If this is all true, then I think Rogue didn't want to tell us. It's like people who are addicted to alcohol, the level-headed ones don't want to tell their families about their addiction because they fear that they will be worried and scared." Mikasa hung her head. "We lived in a tiny piece of heaven, a beautiful cage in the middle of hell. Rogue just wanted us to be happy and feel like we were safe." The girl muttered, stress clearly present in every syllable she spoke.
"If this is true, if any of this is true – insanity, revenge, or protection… it's highly likely that the Scouts know about this. If that is the case Mikasa, then we stick to the original plan and hope for the best."
For a long moment, tension hung in a thick and translucent fog between the two before Mikasa sighed, grey and emotionless eyes traveling to the full moon.
"I just hope that things will work out and we can see him again, no matter what state of mind."
Pain sliced through his abdomen yet again, stomach churning and shifting as if it was trying to beat itself up. A wave of nausea hit the titan once more, provoking a moan to escape the pit of his chest. Rogue curled in on himself tighter, ignoring the hard surface of stone as he instinctively massaged his belly in an attempt to tame the organ's anger. The titan gritted his teeth as a contraction ran across his abdomen, a sickening series of sloshes and gurgles echoing throughout the small area he was temporarily taking shelter in. Damn he hated when this happened. He had things to do. Things to kill.
The discomfort and pain then slightly dulled, allowing Rogue to sit up. The titan whined pitifully and in frustration as he tried to get somewhat comfortable in a new position against the rocky surface of the natural quarry – a basin like formation on the edge of his growing territory formed by rocks. It was a quiet area. A river ran through the small quarry, depositing sediment and mud across its grass-less banks. Rogue sometimes visited the area as a second getaway and hideout other than his dear cove for it was inaccessible for his other kin. Sure, it wasn't nearly as beautiful, but it served a purpose. Today, it was a substitute for safe cover and a deposit site for Rogue had accidentally swallowed a bit of a titan's nape – the meat making his stomach turn sour as it had done before.
Rogue adjusted himself again, a hand rubbing his furious belly in repetitive circles in a useless attempt to gain some relief. A disgruntled snarl left his lipless maw once more, cursing himself for his carelessness. Of course, this was now something that he had to get used to in his profession. Although it didn't happen often, it was just something natural that occurred with his damned species. Rogue let out breath of steam as he placed his free fingers into the muddy sediment and proceeded in the act of drawing, as his little one called it, scribing several large scribbles and swirls to get his mind off of his current predicament. He wanted to vomit so badly so he could hurry and resume his pursuit.
The titan groaned a bit as he felt an incoming contraction and a wave of nausea that was about to take him again. Over the last three years in solitude, Rogue had grown incredibly stubborn and certainly willful. Not only that but more ruthless. He was a dedicated hunter now. On most days, Rogue would expertly track down his kind in his and the surrounding forests, killing his prey with ease from sunrise to sunset. Over time he had polished his techniques in doing so. Rogue would seek out his targets by scent and now sight – recognizing signs such as faint footprints and snapped branches to indicate a titan had been through his territory. Besides tracking, Rogue had also picked up the concept of corralling small groups of titans into one specific area to finish them off. On other days, the titan would spend his time studying the moves in the fighting book, practicing them in his cove. Then there were those times that he simply kept to himself; trying to do things such as understand various picture books that his little ones once read to him – something that wasn't as fun to do anymore. Thus, most of his time was dedicated to his craft and whatever was left was devoted to wondering when he was to reunite with his little ones.
If he ever would.
Pain ran through his stomach again, the unbearable discomfort making the beast's toes curl and muscles tighten. Rogue tilted his head back as he endured another wave of nausea, his mouth beginning to salivate – telling him without words that his current suffering would soon cease. The titan began to think again in an attempt to keep his mind and body from focusing on pain, his hands still cradled around his abdomen. It seemed like it had been decades since his little ones had left him instead of three years ago. Truthfully, Rogue really didn't know why he had stayed at the wall for some time even after his little ones had disappeared behind it. After a few days of sitting and just witnessing the uniformed men with roses staring at him, he should have settled with the fact that Armin and Mikasa would be gone for a while. But he was too hopeful, certain that they would be gone for only a short while by the way they worded things. Of course, as the empty months rolled on by, the titan soon realized that their quick return was not meant to be. Just in case he wouldn't miss their reappearance, Rogue made the two-day journey nearly every month to the wall to wait for signs of his little ones' return. However, with each failure, the titan had concluded that they weren't coming home, but still he went. He wasn't mad at them, he knew it was simply because there were still significant numbers of his kind. Rogue wanted his little ones. That was all he wanted.
Suddenly, the titan's stomach twisted, contracting violently as the organ groaned raucously. Feeling the nausea sweeping over him full force, Rogue doubled over on his knees with pain crippling his torso. A thick mucus leaked from his jaws as his fingers held his belly firmly. With another wave of dizzying sickness, the titan began to heave forcefully – wrenching sounds filling the quarry as Rogue's frame rocked to and fro. A large mass then forced its way from the creature's gut and up his esophagus. Instinctively, the titan unhinged his jaws to allow the sick to pass. Finally, after a final lurch, a red mass hit the rocky bed of the quarry with a sickening thump. The titan paused, taking a breath to regain his composure before scooting away from his unwanted product. Rogue's green eyes stared at the titan pellet before him in a mixture of distaste and awe, surprised that the thing had come from him. The fifteen-meter was familiar with the pellets produced by his kind and how vile they were. After the breach, for days, he would see his kind vomiting the strange round balls. He remembered his curiosity forcing him to look at one and how horrified he was to find dead humans either whole or in pieces inside them. Of course, he found it more disgusting that the titans ate the tiny beings with no means to digest them. It was just pure spite. Rogue continued to stare at his own pellet, recalling how terrified he was when it first happened to him. Unlike the mindless ones' pellets, his was lopsided as opposed to being perfectly spherical. Instead of being full of human remains, Rogue's only contained raw meat and bone from his prey's spine – preserved from evaporating on contact by his stomach acids. Funny, the more he thought about his pellet, the more he considered it to be a thing of metaphorical beauty. As humans were to regular titans, his kin to him was worthless – just another thing to dispose of.
With nostrils flaring from the foul stench of his pellet, Rogue stood and moved to the opposite side of the quarry to escape the smell as he recovered. He could actually envy his kind on that aspect. The other titans were so used to eating and vomiting that they never felt a thing afterwards as opposed to he who spent at least half an hour to recover. He was actually glad that he and his kind didn't have a digestive tract, from knowing his humans and little ones, shitting every day didn't seem like a fun venue either. Stomach still riddled with cramps as a side effect of his biological misfortune, Rogue settled down against the rocky wall of the quarry – silently cursing himself of his ignorance. His purpose was pulling at him, but he didn't want to resume his hunt and journey on a bad note.
Boredom now settling upon aggravation and longing, the titan dipped his fingers into the nearby stream next to him, one of the many that ran off from the river into other sections of the rocky basin. Long ago, before the breach, Rogue had seen humans working in the very quarry – cutting and gathering rocks for reasons he did not know. Like all the humans, the rock gathering ones had fled when his kind invaded, leaving behind all sorts of objects relative to the strange task. The titan would sometimes but not often look and collect things – hoping to keep them as gifts for his little ones if they ever returned. Otherwise, the quarry was just a place to rest and recollect before the beast began another hunt. Rogue then raised his muddy fingertips to the rocky wall beside him, performing the task of drawing again to pass the time. The titan tilted his head a bit, giving into a bit of whimsy that he often sealed away these days. Wanting to attempt to scribe something that Armin used to draw, Rogue concentrated and used a single digit to draw something that his little ones called a line. A soft rumble forced its way from his maw as the titan added four more lines to his previous one. Finally, he drew something that his humans had lectured him on, things called shapes – a circle he placed on the top of the first line. Rogue then pulled back slightly to scrutinize his creation. Long ago, his little one showed him how he drew humans, calling them a 'stick person' which was a series of lines that indicated arms and legs with a circle representing the head. The titan blinked, although his scribble was equivalent to that of a toddler using a pencil for the first time, it was a suitable stick person. Although it was crooked and much less than beautiful, it was still a human.
Still recovering, Rogue had an idea. He then scribed a second little stick person to join the first. The titan then pulled away to examine his work, yes the two small markings looked well enough like his little ones – but his drawing was missing something. Knowing just what he wanted to add, Rogue retrieved more mud and started to scribe again. He added two more figures to be his humans, yet his illustration was still lacking. The titan then nodded and dipped his fingers again before raising them to the rock. Rogue then began to draw a much larger stick person than the others, letting it tower over them by a few meters. After the addition of the head, the titan looked at what he had just done. Ha had inserted himself, but his stick person just looked nothing like him except for his height. After a brief moment of thinking, Rogue added two small lines on the side of his head to resemble his ears. Deciding that it was good enough, the titan then dipped his entire hand in the mud before placing his coated palm and fingers onto the rocky surface, knowing from his little one that after humans draw something they always mark their work as theirs by writing their name. For Rogue, a hand print would suffice. The titan then scooted back to admire his scribbles, grunting in satisfaction and smiling for the first time in weeks.
For several long minutes, the titan's emerald pools looked upon his work, but then a feeling of hollowness settled into the pit of his recovering abdomen. If his little ones were present they would have given praise that he so desperately longed for. However there was no shock and awe, only nothingness. A silence more so. Rogue hung his head, now realizing that his drawing had done nothing to soothe but instead made things worse. He was lonely, so very lonely in the violent world. Dissatisfied and feeling disowned by what his own kind had brought upon him, Rogue snarled and quickly rose to his feet. At first, he just wanted to scoop up a wad of river mud and chuck it straight at his inscribed dream knowing that it could never truly be reality with the permanent loss of his humans. However he decided against its destruction. Stupidity was replaced by reason. To make the image no longer a dream, he couldn't just sit around and hope and mope. Fully well or not, it was time to hunt and leave.
Carefully, the titan then made his way from the quarry and back onto grassy earth – a relief for his feet for he could never form tough calluses to protect them due to his healing factor. Rogue then made his way up a steep slope to finally peak at the top of a large hill that overlooked most of his territory and the surrounding woodlands. During many of his hunts, Rogue liked to begin by surveying from the higher altitude upon the mound to gain an advantage. From the added height, the air was pristine and nothing obscured his vision. Although he could easily track his prey in the forest, sometimes he liked to have things handed to him. For all the levels of hell he had gone through he deserved it.
The titan then shut his eyes and sniffed belligerently, indulging from the surrounding scents of life and even death. Rogue's nostrils flared wildly as a foul stench registered to his enemy presented itself. The titan snorted, one of conformation as he looked in the direction of origin. Rogue then narrowed his eyes as he began to let his sensitive and acute hearing execute their craft. The titan's tapered ears quickly shifted, angled, and moved – natural radar that the beast had discovered could help him size up an unseen opponent. Rogue's eardrums continued to soak in information. From miles away, he could her his prey's raspy breath and footsteps. From the reverberating thumps, Rogue was able to discern that he had picked up the titan that he had been previously tracking. It was large in size, a fifteen-meter, with a slight moment of hesitation in its step – indicating a limp from most likely a deformity. It was also heading the way he wished to go. Instinctively, Rogue growled – one of determination. Yes, the titan in question was most defiantly the one that he had been hunting before, encountering it for the first time in a quarrel with a few other ten and twelve-meters. Set on his target, Rogue then lightened and charged into the woods.
The titan's ears flickered and indulged from the small creatures celebrating a day of summer, listening to woodpeckers, squirrels, and other birds as he bounded swiftly among the green foliage. Although Rogue often found it a bit harder to track his kin through the wood during the warm months, due to the great amount of distractions for both his nose and ears, the titan took it as a challenge. It just made things more interesting. Of course, the spilt blood was the fun part. Rogue then slowed his pace a bit, footsteps fading away as his charging frame came to a halt. The creature's green eyes traveled to the trees to see what he had expected; several broken limbs created from the brush of a large titan's shoulder. Rogue's gaze then shot to the earth to find a large print in the dirt, smooth, clear, and compact from a forceful weight. The titan then bent down to examine the print, running his fingers delicately over the disturbed sediment. Rogue sniffed, nose near the sole of the footprint as his eyes widened with each breath. Yes, it was the titan with the limp that he was looking for. Not only that, but by the sampling, Rogue could tell that his prey was close.
With his discovery, the titan began his pursuit yet again, faster this time to witness the look of his enemy's dead eyes when they ignited with a spark of fear that made them look temporarily alive. It was something that made Rogue's heart leap in excitement. To him, the sight of a titan seeing its imminent slaughter was something that was not only to be cherished, but something that was truly magnificent.
It was so exhilarating.
He then came to a rocky extension that overlooked a small dip in a clearing – revealing his prey that was completely unaware of his arrival. The sent of the monster's flesh and blood poured into Rogue's nostrils, causing them to flare and his emerald pools to glow feral. The titan's ears pressed against his skull, giving in to his furious animalistic traits. Rogue then announced his prey's impending execution with a vengeful howl, the roar so great that it sent his angry message for miles. Finally, as the mindless titan turned to acknowledge him with a dead and mocking gaze, Rogue lunged. Hell bent on destruction and demise of his foe, the titan angled his arm as he charged at full speed. The lame monster barely had a chance to even blink as Rogue's fist planted itself into the other fifteen-meter's abdomen, the appendage going straight through to see the light upon the other side. Rogue smirked cunningly, he had his prey right where he wanted him – delicate putty in his hands.
Blood stained the blades of grass like bristles on a used paintbrush. Rogue's wild eyes glared at his enemy in hatred. He was not satisfied. The stupid creature was so dull that it didn't even cry out in mercy – a sound that brought pleasure to course throughout his veins. Rogue bellowed again, violently ripping his hand to the side and nearly severing the titan's misshapen torso. Instantly, the monster fell to the earth, creating a crater that rapidly filled with its own blood. Rogue then forcefully, pulled the titan from its crumpled heap – lifting it upright before kicking out its legs with the limbs disuniting from the knee below. With his hands free the titan fell on its face, skull crushing from impact. A snarl sliced between Rogue's teeth as he circled the titan's body eagerly with ears pressed against his skull like a wild dog. Still, he was unhappy. This particular specimen had caused him to swallow his kind's meat when it had fallen into him. The creature was responsible for his stomach's torture as its breed for tearing apart his heart. Rogue wanted to hear it scream. He would make sure of that, even if he had to torture the monster.
He roared again as he went in for another attack, wrapping himself around the fifteen-meter in a vice like hold. The titan's muscles contracted as he squeezed the frailer frame of his prey, breaking its bones that tore the flesh – still there was no shriek for clemency. Blood boiled beneath his skin as his temper sent him further into his murderous state. Rogue then quickly placed his massive hands accordingly against the head of his victim – and twisted. A snap echoed within the small basin as the monstrosities' skull was separated from the spine. Rogue stood back a bit as he watched the pitiful beast squirm like a broken steed, its head hanging sickly from its shoulders as it struggled to defend itself - a pathetic whine finally escaping its wide jaws.
That was all he wanted to hear.
Rogue then stood to his full height and slammed his foot onto the titan's nape, repeating the action until it was nothing but crumbled marrow and mawkish flesh. Steam then gently rose into the air from the corpse at the titan's feet, looking like the smoky product of flame. He threw his head back and roared, a natural celebration for his victory. Rogue then looked down at the titan's evaporating remains in disgust, eyes narrowing as he effortlessly punted the steaming mass into one of the great trees. The titan dipped his head a bit, hair-obscuring most of his face as bone shattered like glass and blood caked the foliage, expression one that reflected a silent anger – brows simply lowered and flat with the lack of compassion. It was a look of disappointment.
The titan then sighed deeply, breath rattling in his chest as he attempted to regain himself again. His hand, crimson still steaming from it, pressed lightly to his belly to feel that the pain had ceased and the bubbling had stopped. Rogue exhaled a breath of heavy steam, relieved that his day's misfortune was over and resolved. Green pools then shifted north in the direction of the wall. That morning, he had made the decision to go and attempt to see his little ones again. This time however, he would see them. At night, after examining the uniformed men and killing his kind during sunup, he was to try to scale the dreadfully tall barrier. For weeks he had been practicing with the tallest trees in the forests. Now, he felt that he was ready. It was a risky move that could potentially kill him, but it would be worth it. He HAD to see his little ones. Sure, he had his heart, but a year ago the titan felt that it was nothing but bullshit. The memories of happier times only hurt worse and there was nothing like the physical presence of the young humans. Even if it killed him, Rogue would see his babies. He would make sure of that.
The beast then took a step forward despite the fact that the thumping in his chest was still rapid. Suddenly, his tapered ears fidgeted, quickly shifting forward as thundering footsteps approached the clearing. Rogue snarled, instinctively putting himself into his signature fighting position forward faced with fists outstretched before him in preparation to brawl. However, before he could make a single step to throw a punch, a thirteen-meter darted from the trees and brambles – running awkwardly on all fours like a one year old imitating the family pet. Rogue blinked in confusion as the monster reentered the trees again, paying his presence no heed as it thundered along. He had seen titans like this one before, although rare, he had witnessed their behavior on a few previous infractions. Rogue had taken to calling them 'strange ones' for their tendency in behavioral shifts and unpredictability. Of course, the titan couldn't stand and gawk further. Recalling his purpose, Rogue bolted after the beast without a second thought.
His heart pounded, pumping blood as he ran – eyes locked onto his bizarre target. The titan, with its odd movement, would be impossible to neutralize with a high or low sweep of his fist. In order to stop it long enough to rip the nape free, the fifteen-meter would have to bluntly and forcefully angle himself to kick his prey. Truthfully, as skills went, Rogue was not completely comfortable throwing kicks. His talent lay mostly in his clenched hands and powerful jaw. Lately he had been practicing more with some 'fancy footwork' but still he felt at home with his grapples and punches. Now he had no choice but to execute a well timed kick. Of course, there was always the thought of letting his prey go, but that was not Rogue. He would do anything no matter how difficult it was to rid his enemy from the world.
Rogue pushed himself further, surprised that his opponent was even gaining speed in its awkward gate. He ran parallel to the creature, judging its steps and timing its movement. He would have to be quick. A single blow could prove devastating. Rogue then lightened himself more, his body sailing over the foliage at full speed to gain the ground that he needed – even passing his foe to ensure that his plan was to be executed without a hitch. Suddenly, Rogue turned sharply to crouch in a ready position, observing as the foolish and ignorant beast kept on its doomed path. False thunder echoed among the trees as the behemoth bounded right into the reaper's hands. With no second to waste, Rogue released a roar and threw out his leg as hard and forcefully as he could – hitting his translucent mark. The fifteen-meter's skin crushed the jaw and nose of his prey along with its arms. The strange titan shrieked in agony as it was knocked from its hands and feet. Rogue watched gleefully as the lump of flesh bounced and rolled across the landscape, tearing a craterous path and uprooting small and delicate trees. Finally, after several flips, the titan came to rest upright against a giant tree – most of its limbs torn from its armature. Rogue cried in defiance and brutality yet again as he charged to his piece of prized meat. His irises paper-thin slits, rage consuming him in a rush of dopamine and adrenaline. The titan then thrust his clawed hands into the monster's trachea, blood spraying onto his face like sleet and ice. Crimson coated his hand yet again, painting his wrist as he forced his digits deeper until he felt the rough texture of the titan's spine. A sliver of saliva glided down his chin, not produced by hunger but madness. Rogue fingers then wrapped around the vital bone – infrastructure of the nape. With a final roar, he quickly ended the pathetic beast's life with a potent pull. The monster fell to his feet in a useless pile, nothing more than a corpse.
Rogue then dejectedly dropped the hunk of flesh, chest heaving in exhaustion and in recovery. Green eyes shielded and unshielded before he let out a snort in disgust. Damned thing. He had hoped for little distraction on his journey to see his little ones, but his day had been sour since the beginning. He had already suffered another nightmare, now all too common since his companion's departure – a horrible vision of his little one's demise yet again. Before the sun was at its highest, he had encountered a horde of a dozen titans. He had grown ill and now had encountered more of his kind. The day had both been productive yet not productive. Rogue then sighed, turning to motion in the direction of the wall. However, a puzzling thought hit him, making the fifteen-meter titan slow to a halt. His mind buzzed with perplexity as he directed his glance at the evaporating carcass erupting with steam. Rogue blinked, a brow rising in question. His mindless kin, even those from his hunt earlier, they had all been traveling in the same direction. For a moment, he hovered on the topic further before releasing a conceited snort and dismissing it. Perhaps the strain and stress had made him imagine things.
"Ah, so he does have an extended knowledge of hand to hand combat! Looks like he is beginning to utilize his powerful legs as weapons as well!"
Rogue paused at her voice, no doubt the female human with messy hair. Slowly, he covered his nape and craned his neck to see the flying human pack resting in the overhead treetops. His chest tightened and his face heated by a few degrees. Really? They had come now? It was just his luck, another distraction.
"Hopefully he'll be a bit more open for observation today! He's been a bit stubborn lately!" The woman continued.
Rogue remained still, annoyed as he weighed his options. Over the past few years he had tolerated the uniformed men's presence. After he had been caught stealing cable, he had taken refuge away from the pack for several months, only observing from a distance for he had thought they were angry with him. As time passed however, Rogue realized that the flying humans had no interest in making him return the cable but more so in his appearance, behavior, and of course including the thing called 'intelligence'- whatever the hell it meant. Indeed, he had gotten used to their company and admittedly it was a bit of therapy to hear human voices that brought a sense of comfort to his loneliest days. When he was in a good mood, he didn't mind them much, just keeping to a spur of the moment schedule while listening to their human tongue up in the trees – an odd form of ease. At one point, he even felt comfortable enough to remove his hand from his nape, only to replace it when the small one moved. In the years, Rogue had already determined whom he liked, disliked, and whom he was indifferent about. The man with whiskers, the woman with red-orange hair, and the woman with messy hair he liked for they were interested. He especially liked the woman with orange hair; she was kind it seemed – voice always warm. Messy hair squealed often and he could call her obnoxious, but she was always thrilled to see and talk about him. She often spoke complex words that meant company, experimentation sounding like one of them. He wasn't sure what it meant, but by her tone it had to be good. Rogue was questionable about the man with large brows, often finding him hard to interpret. The titan disliked the small man early on. The man's human tongue was spiteful and foul, often full of insults – calling him words like 'brat' that Rogue assumed was an unkind term. Of course, his dislike also went as far as his skill – if he made the wrong move this man would kill him.
Unfortunately, when he was in a bad mood, Rogue avoided the flying humans at all costs. Hiding and hoping that he would not be smelt out by the tall man with whiskers. Today however, there was to be no hiding. They had already spotted him. Rogue's thigh twitched nervously, muscles pulling a bit as he hesitated on his next move. He couldn't just turn and roar an unwilling greeting for the sake of his life. If he ran, they would only follow him. The titan's massive jaw clenched while he continued to mentally debate. It wouldn't be wise to show the crude symbol he had learnt from his little one or simply tell them to stay away. If anything that would one make the uniformed men more interested and more likely to follow. The last thing the titan wanted was for the acrobatic humans to follow him to his destination. Rogue recalled the time he spent two weeks standing guard and seeing the short man and eyebrow man atop the wall, questioning themselves and their peers about what he had been doing. They were already suspicious of his presence at the foot of the barrier, they couldn't know of his plan to climb said barrier. Rogue's green eyes narrowed at the humans, not enough to make them draw their weapons but enough to show his irritation. Finally, he decided to go with a non-verbal approach that the four legged creatures with long tails and pointy ears had taught him, a risky but effective move. Deep down, he hoped that it would work. The titan then parted his teeth and released a low hiss like an exasperated feline. He was in no mood for them.
The men and women up in the trees instantly tensed, some hands hovering over their sharp sticks, pairing blades as he learned from them, making him slightly skittish. Had he made a mistake? Rogue glanced at the open landscape just beyond, he was still a ways away from the halfway point and his shelter there. His eyes glanced at the flying humans yet again, still trying to decide on his actions. The titan then slowly took a step in retreat, keeping his eyes glued to the uniformed men as he growled softly, nonthreatening but a gentle warning. Without waiting for human tongue to be spoken, Rogue turned and walked away at a brisk pace, neck still cradled in his protective embrace. Hopefully, he wouldn't be followed.
"I guess that's a no then." Levi sighed, no hint of amusement in his voice.
Hange's heart fell to a low spot in her rib cage. "I don't understand it. He had gotten so relaxed around us after he finally brought up the nerve to show himself again." She muttered, missing the stout man's eye roll.
"He's probably gotten sick of hearing your pig imitations and bullshit."
The scientist ignored Levi's insult, a well-practiced move. Hange then folded her arms as she thought, watching The Rogue's broad back as his form was swallowed up by the leafy green. She was spellbound and confused. In all of their times observing and watching the titan, it had never made any move to communicate at all. The creature would just sit idle by or keep on doing whatever it was doing. Of course, she had noticed a change in the titan's behavior, that could be described as moody, taciturn, and as if the beast was giving them the cold-shoulder. Seeing The Rogue's response, Hange began to wonder. Was something pulling at the titan's strings? More so, could it have possibly been their constant prodding?
"I wonder if he's undergoing an emotional effect." Hange trailed off, still looking in the direction that the titan had disappeared.
"With this brat who knows." Levi continued. "Humph, he's just like one of those filthy toms in the allies, Hange. Animals will tell you when they want to be left alone."
"I wish I knew what was bothering him." She sighed, wanting desperately for the allowed privilege to question the beast himself – and that he was able to tell her.
"I may know."
The higher ups turned at the sound of Erwin's tone and the meaning of his statement. To their shock, the Commander's face was frozen, pupils deadpanning on the landscape ahead in a look of none other than apprehension. His brow was furrowed the wrinkles a light pink against his paled face. Hange swallowed, she had not seen this look on the man's face in years.
"What is it?" Mike questioned, his tired eyes suddenly fully blown and awaiting the man's answer. Erwin only remained still, stoic but petrified.
"The titans we encountered today, I believe in the split second before we made ourselves known to The Rogue, he may have taken it into account. Somehow he is unaffected…
The Commander dithered for a moment at the Corporal's demanding words. "The titans," He began, seriousness the only thing laden in his tone. "They were all traveling in the same direction, toward Wall Rose."
"Wait, so you're saying –
"We abandon our current mission and head straight for Trost. I fear that this could be a repeat of five years ago."
Stars replaced the cloudless and blue heavens; moonlight illuminated the surface of a small pond in a thick and rocky forest. Rogue let out another puff of steam in sheer exhaustion, having to run for miles to make up his lost time. The titan kept quiet, careful not to disturb the sleeping landscape. In his muscular arms, he possessed a large amount of fresh leaves from healthy maples and oaks. It was perfect bedding, different and new from his nest in the cove. The titan then gave into a yawn, his tired frame vibrating and begging for rest. But of course, with the day's misfortune, he felt that he deserved a comfy nest at least.
Rogue then entered the mouth of a large cave formed in the side of a rocky hill. Although it wasn't like his tree in his haven, this second nest was still snug and secure. It wasn't much to look at; the inside was composed of rock slabs and was dark with a dreary hue, a shade of navy when night dawned. The titan then slid down several meters from the entrance to the cave floor. Rogue captured his footing and crouched to place his many leaves onto his nest, a mere pile of detached greens surrounded by several rocks that he had placed himself to mimic the walls of his hollow tree. The creature then shifted the foliage around and tested the natural cushioning before climbing into his nest. For several minutes, Rogue shifted a bit as he placed all of his fifteen-meters within the circle. The titan then curled in on himself, letting a rumble of pleasure slip from between his teeth in satisfaction.
The cave echoed softly with the titan's breaths, smooth and unnatural just as he was. Rogue's eyes meandered a bit as he waited for sleep to claim him in open arms, watching water fall from stalactites into a shallow pool. The creature blinked, his mind wandering in thoughts of the future. Was he really doing what he was doing? Sneaking into the human wall to see his little ones with little chance of succeeding? He wanted them so badly. He didn't want to be alone. He hated it just as much as he hated his kin. Rogue observed the water further, fixated on every ripple in the murky surface that was still able to catch every ray of light it could. Yes, he was going to take the gamble. He needed to see them, hear them, touch them, and speak to them. They were going to be together, see the water called the ocean when all of the titans were extinguished from the cruel world. Even if it were just for a split second, it would put his mind at ease.
Unannounced to him, the odds would not be in his favor.
Sunlight poured in from the mouth of the cave, revealing its earthy tones and every dimple or crevice. The titan remained in repose, indulging from the solar energy. His nose twitched as his chest took a large rise and fall, breath rumbling throughout the rocky den. Rogue then settled again, letting every muscle in his body relax. It was a rare morning where the beast honestly felt like procrastinating, his nest almost too
comfortable to rise from. Rogue loved them, it was one of the only times where he felt at peace.
The titan's tapered ear then twitched as the sounds of small squeaks and patters graced his eardrum. Rogue grumbled a bit as the piping grew louder, sleepily placing a massive hand over his elfish extremity. The titan then tried to settle again, groaning a bit at the unwanted and annoying intrusion on his rest. Rogue groaned, listening to the animalistic activity that was not mistakenly growing louder. The creature's green eyes quivered as he growled, his temper beginning to test him. He had just traveled a day's journey. He at least deserved a tranquil morning.
With his body now and unwillingly alert and upset, Rogue quickly rolled over to command silence with a roar – but the signature bellow never sounded from his pit at the picture painted before him. Above, the flying fuzzy creatures were leaving their roosts on the cave's ceiling – heading deeper into the infrastructure of the stone labyrinth. Rogue raised a brow in question. From what he knew about these creatures from finding a few in his tree, these minuscule animals were only active at night and would remain dormant during the day. The titan blinked, his green eyes adverting to the cave floor where he noticed another abnormal fact. The scaled creatures, things his little one had said were lizards, were coming from the entrance of the cave in hordes. Immediately, Rogue sat upright as the reptiles scurried across the floor to retreat into the cracks and venture into his leafy nest. Feeling their touch against his flesh, the titan stood in bewilderment, watching as other small creatures entered the cave to invade his space. Puzzled, Rogue scratched his scalp, hair messily ruffling from his touch, its oils glazing his leathery skin. Why were these animals entering his cave?
Looking for answers, Rogue scaled the steep granite and out of his second nest. Outside, it was quiet, much too quiet for a peaceful morning. The titan scanned his surroundings, chest constricting at the lack of wildlife – not even insects scurried. Before he could grunt to question himself further, a flock of birds shot into the blue from the canopy, squawking urgently as they flew to the west. Again, Rogue shifted on the balls of his feet, questioning the circumstances. He had only ever seen animals do this when –
And then it hit him.
A tremor went down his spine as his gut twisted in alarm. Boiling blood ran cold trough icy veins, his body going into a state of suspended animation. His breath hitched, palms grew white, and his heart all but stopped at his realization. He had only felt this level of fear once before, the terrifying itch he had hoped to never feel again. The titan's shock was then replaced by panic. Rogue's breath quickened, heart pumping at an outrageous frequency. His kin, the titans, they were going to attack the wall again! A loud cry escaped Rogue, one of absolute distress and horror. No! The humans! They were behind the wall! His little ones! His dear, sweet little babies – they were in danger! He couldn't lose them! They were all he had left! He couldn't let them get eaten! They could NOT die!
"ARRNINN! NNIKKASSA!" The titan cried, the first words he had spoken aloud in years.
Without a second to waste or a further thought, Rogue bolted for Wall Rose in a dead sprint.
A few clouds had mixed within the heavenly blue as the sun steadily rose higher. Armin kept to himself as he organized a few artillery shells, watching other cadets perform various duties on the cannons nearby. Currently, he, Mikasa, Connie, and several other recent grads and friends were attending wall duties with several of the Garrison soldiers – last minute tasks that required extra hands before the choosing ceremony that was roughly three days away. With all the talk the previous evening about the titan and Mikasa's fight to win spiel, Armin could not believe what he was hearing from the cadets now.
"So," He began, voice nearly catching in his throat. "You're serious about this?"
Connie nodded, eyes wide with interest as usual. "Of course! We need more soldiers right? Plus it gives me the chance to see The Rogue up close." He reminded as he shoved a grape shot into the cannon.
"The Scouts may be dangerous, but humanity needs all the soldiers it can get to fight the titans." Mina added, charming and upbeat tone unexpected for someone that was offering to fight mankind's greatest enemy – a tone that nearly made Armin sick to his stomach.
"Who else decided that they're joining the Scouts?"
Armin turned at the sound of his best friend's voice to see Mikasa leaving her task of polishing and cleaning. The blonde swallowed anxiously, it was rare for the teen to willingly join in a conversation – especially one as touchy as the current subject.
"They're not the only ones." Thomas informed as he nervously scratched his neck, cheeks turning the shade of turnips. "In fact I believe the majority of us are."
"Of course Marco and Jean are sticking to the Military Police." Connie furthered. "They've been dead set on the regiment and I doubt anything will change their minds."
The blonde dithered, too lost in thought to speak. Did they really know what they were signing up for? For the most part, none of his friends aside from Mikasa had ever seen a titan, a bloodthirsty one, in the flesh before. Their only experience was sketches on a blackboard and in old textbooks. Nothing compared to the real thing and nothing of the sort was fit preparation. Seeing Rogue for the first time, Armin was so terrified of the fifteen-meter's appearance that he nearly soiled himself and lost his common sense. Of course, after that faithful night and for the several years that followed, Rogue was nearly everything that the average titan was not. Titans, mindless ones, were much more terrifying than his giant friend that appeared much more grizzly than all of them. At least – that was the case if Rogue was still sane. Still, he could help but feel better at the fact that there would be people he knew in the Scouts that would protect one another if things ever got awry. It actually brought a bit of comfort to him. Of course, none of them could know of Rogue and he and Mikasa's plan – not yet at least. They had to get to the Scouts first, and then they would execute their plan at the right time. Their friends would aid them when it was the right moment to act.
The sound of devious giggling brought Armin back from his thoughts, the teen observing Sasha approach them, body language reflecting astuteness. The girl then slowed, keeping one hand inside her jacket awkwardly as she quickly brushed her brown locks out of her face and mouth as she breathed in exhaustion.
"Sasha, what –
"Hey guys!" The girl whispered excitedly. "I just helped myself to the officers' pantry!" Sasha spoke, nearly squealing as she pulled a large cut of meat, fresh sausage, from within her uniform and drooling at the sight of it. Instantly, Armin and the others became armed, eyes growing wide at the knowledge of the consequence relating to theft – especially for a rare morsel of meat.
"Sasha are you crazy! You could get thrown in jail for that!" Connie exaggerated, slowly backing away in fear that a Garrison solider could pass by – ready to bolt if needed.
The teenager only smiled. "Not if they find out! Come on, we can make some sandwiches for lunch!" Sasha continued, removing the meat from her jacket and placing it into a small empty crate for safekeeping.
"You know," Thomas began after a brief pregnant pause. "I would really like a slice please." The boy admitted with others soon following his action.
"I want one too." Mikasa gave in, a small smile flashing across her face for a brief second.
Armin sighed, deciding that it was a good chance to have a bit of meat before joining the Survey Corps – who knew when he would ever have the privilege of tasting the succulent flavor on his tongue again? "I'll have one as –
However, before he could finish his request, a group of at least six Garrison soldiers hurriedly made their way to the collection of teens. Armin's heart began to pound and his face grew red. Was it possible that they had been trailing Sasha and now they were going to confront the teens for their exploits? Before he could think of any excuse, Armin saw the look of terror and panic in their faces, brows furrowed in worry and eyes wide with fright. The groups of Garrisons then looked into the stretch of land before Wall Rose, sweat beading up on their necks and faces. A man peered at the horizon through a telescope, the color draining from his face.
"Is it The Rogue?" Connie foolishly asked, getting no answer as the group of teens looked on into the landscape.
Armin's eyes grew wider as he spotted it, his heart halting its task of pumping blood. He had never seen any titan like this one. The teen barely heard the orders from the Garrison as he examined the behemoth. The titan was a fifteen-meter class, skinless like the Colossal but its body was decorated in hard plates. Its hair was silver as coin currency and its eyes glowed a menacing golden-yellow. Although he had never seen this titan before, he knew it instantly.
It was the Armored Titan, the beast that cannon shells couldn't pierce and the very monster that broke through the inner gate of Wall Maria.
And it was heading straight for Trost's gate at top speed.
Everything was a blur. The passing foliage, his mind, everything. His heart rattled and his feet pounded the earth relentlessly. Screeches and screams pronounced themselves from his throat, vocals that he could not determine if they were in rage or sheer fear. Rogue's chest heaved in exhaustion, but he was determined – ignoring the fact that he had been running full tilt to the wall all morning with no pause for a breather. He had to get there! He had to save his little ones from the coming, current, or past turmoil.
Crossing a clearing with the massive wall in his sights, Rogue crashed through a forest, mowing down anything in his way whether it plant or animal. He paid no mind to any living or stagnant casualties; his only priority was getting to his little ones. The titan didn't care how he got there. It felt as if he was in his own realm, a space of nothingness as he ran forward. Yes, nothing else mattered.
Then, the foul stench of his kind hit him and made him chug faster, plowing through thick scenery. There were lots. Many of them. Every one was heading in the same direction. No! It was happening again! Just his rotten luck! Rogue sailed over the brush and brambles, regret now hitting him heavily. He should have never taken them to the wall. Ever. However, he couldn't deny the fact that they needed nourishment. Really, why was he so surprised that his kind was making a second attempt? After all, they had already done it before. Of course, it wasn't the time to pity, but the time to act.
Suddenly, Rogue's foot caught a fallen tree, making his frame fall forward onto the earth and breaking his ankle. The titan let out a whine in both agony but more so desperation. His hand shot to the broken appendage, pain shooting up his leg as bones realigned and torn ligaments mended themselves. Rogue's protective instincts forced him to crawl forward. He had to keep moving. Feeling the repair becoming complete, the titan braced himself, standing upright and placing his weight onto one leg – limping in the direction of the wall that was now towering over him. Rogue then paused, testing his weight on his heel to find that it was fully functional. However, before he could race forward into the fire, an exotic odor swept his façade. The creature's nose wrinkled and flared as he sniffed the horrid stench. It was titan. Although it was different, it was titan. And it was close. Naturally, he turned his gaze in the direction of the scent's source, his emerald hues spying a monster through the branches and leaves that never graced his vision.
Standing just beyond the thicket upon a hill overlooking his marching kin, was a fifteen-meter titan. Like the colossal one, the beast was cursed skinless with the addition of hard places molded around its bulky frame – even more so than his ripped body. The vile being's face reminded him a bit of a creature that his little one called a 'snapping turtle' with the shape of its beak like mouth and plated face. Its eyes were yellow, glowing and soulless like a daemon. Silver hair topped its head like a grassy field. A wave of fury washed over Rogue, irises becoming feral and furious. This, this thing had somehow broken through the human gate and was now just watching his kin enter the wall – not fixed on joining the feast itself. It was responsible. It broke the human gate just so his loathsome brethren could eat!
For what the titan had done, he would rip the fucker limb from limb.
Rogue's brows lowered and his nose furrowed into a vicious sneer that could rival the growling animals in his forest, watching as the armored one turned and ran in the opposite direction and away from chaos. The titan took a step forward, hands balling into fists and steam leaking from his jaws and shoulders as he prepared to pursue with murderous intent. However, before he could begin his slaughter, his eyes recaptured the dozens of titans entering the human gate – ignoring and some evading cannon fire. The scent of blood and precious human crimson forced a thought of reason. He couldn't waste time. If he went after the armored one, he would lose precious minutes in searching for his little ones – if he lost both Armin and Mikasa he would never forgive himself. He vowed to protect them, always no matter what the circumstance.
With his decision made final, Rogue's feral eyes burned with hatred and vengeance as he stared at the entrance to the human city. With their low supply of iron balls for their giant guns, more titans were making their way into human territory, searching for helpless morsels. A massive snarl left his lipless maw, he could not let those fleshy molds of scum enjoy their feast on the humans and indulge off his companions' blood. It was time to pursue his prize, but first he had to hunt. He had to be bathed in blood.
Rogue then tossed his head back and released a great and defiant roar that commanded fear to settle into every living thing around him. He then lunged forward, barreling from the trees with emerald orbs blazing with rage – fists ready for delivering punishing blows and teeth ready to tear hot flesh from bone. The titan then threw himself into his nearest opponent, disposing of it immediately with the soldiers atop the wall pausing to witness the legend in action. Rogue threw a powerful hit into the skull of a thirteen-meter, bone caving in under tremendous force and blood adorning the stone wall. The titan then planted his teeth into the nape of his foe to execute his signature finishing move. Crimson highlighted his face as his jaws tore the nape free, the heavy scent of blood powering his rage further.
Although he was still a placid soul, he loved being painted in red. It was sweet and violent therapy.
With the path temporarily cleared, Rogue then raced for the gate with his hand placed over his weak spot. He glanced upward at the uniformed men atop the wall, seeing them frozen and their mugs crippled with awe. To his relief, they made no move to shoot at him. After all the titan's raids on his kin before their property, they must have realized that he was an unlikely ally coming to aid. He would have thanked them if he had the time. Of course, he couldn't rule out the possibility that it was too early for any gratitude to be given.
Rogue then quickly passed through the ruined gate, pausing again at the sight before him. Titans of all sizes were wandering around the large city that was a bit more upscale than his little ones' home had been, the pitiful trenches, barricades, and nets had done nothing to restrain their entry. Death hung in the air; a few bodies of uniformed men and their innards were strung on the stone paths. Further observation reviled no common humans. Was it possible that they were hiding in their homes? He sniffed, finding the air tainted with every smell imaginable. It was a cesspool of titan stench, human, and blood. Rogue whined in worry, pupils reverting from a slit to large child-like circles. There would be no way to pinpoint where his little ones were. He would have to be close to them in order to smell them out, so sight was the only thing he had to rely on. And of course, he could only remember what they looked like when they were children. He had no idea what they looked like now.
Or if they were even alive.
The thought sickened him, but then he remembered his mission. He needed to get rid of the problem at hand. The fewer titans there were, the less danger to his little ones or the other humans in the area. The thoughts of the armored one and the titans' attack in general, placed his rage front and center again. Rogue's eyes turned predatory, slits and ready to find his first victim. The fifteen-meter titan motioned forward, stride smooth – a hunter stalking his prey with aggression barely restrained, ready to explode onto his adversary. Thunder from a coming rain cracked overhead, lightning illuminating the darkened sky, a reflection of his mood. Rogue then rounded a corner to halt before his new target, a seven-meter titan with a broad stupid grin that sat like frog, beady eyes glaring at his frame. He dipped his head, ears pinned back and green hues wild as he released a snarl that rattled the nearby window frames. Daring the monster to come after him.
'THIS… ISN'T YOUR… WORLD…' Rogue thought, words reverberating in his skull. 'NOT…. NOT… ANY…MORE.'
Before he could blink, the seven-meter launched itself into the air, shrieking riotously with jaws open wide to take away a chunk of his flesh.
Rogue only smirked in cunning.
The fifteen-meter then moved forward, a single step and swung in a powerful uppercut – hitting his target perfectly, fist entering the monster's mouth and straight through its cranium and brain.
'I… WILL KILL YOU.' The titan thought as blood, bone, tissues, and brain matter detonated all around him to stain the rooftops and earth. The seven-meter then fell lifeless to the crimson walk, body broken and awkward as it struggled to move. Rogue then placed himself over the pitiful creature, raising his foot before propelling it to the creature's nape – bringing forth more crimson to coat his body.
He stomped again and again, pounding the neck to pulp.
Rogue brought his foot down again, blood spraying his face.
Seeing that the titan was dead, he released a dominant and projecting roar of victory; the bellow echoing throughout the human structures and making the earth tremble in his wake. Rogue then adverted his gaze to the extent of the city, watching more of his kind consuming and the uniformed men attempting to hold their own against the monsters. Rain then spilled from the sky and Rogue moved forward to continue his hunt – hoping that he would have a bit of good fortune, something that always came to those who helped and were good in heart. It was part of his vow. He couldn't let more innocent blood be spilled.
Tears stung his face like dried earth caked on skin. Rain hit the blonde teen as he propelled himself through the air in full retreat. He was in hell. Pure, unadulterated hell – and he was alone. Nothing had been going his way and humanity's odds were never in their favor since the second strike had begun. To be more correct, they had always been stuck on the loosing side and it had been that way ever since the titans first emerged from whatever hellhole they had crawled out of. Armin raced over the terra cotta rooftops, his mind in a state of panic and despondency. Only minutes ago, the cadet squad he had been assigned to for assisting what little was left of the vanguard, had all been wiped out. Everything had transpired so fast that shock had not yet settled into Armin. Just as they had moved out to aid, Thomas had fallen victim to a lanky abnormal as it lunged with intent to satisfy its gullet – the teen swallowed whole just as his fight began. Poor Mina had met a similar fate. She had no warning just as every soldier did upon the field. A greedy hand had grabbed her wires, and she was bitten in half. Of the five, Armin was the soul survivor – if he moved fast enough.
Aiming another hook, the blue-eyed blonde checking around for both advancing titans and Mikasa. He had to find her. Most likely she was still alive and well equipped, the art of slaying monsters came easy to her for her instincts were sharp and so was her skills with the maneuver gear and blades. He swallowed back the vile taste in his mouth as he rounded another building. Yes, Mikasa had to be alive and hopefully his assumptions were correct. He only had two members of his family left, one he had not been able to see in years and one he could consider his sibling. Armin could not bear to loose anyone else.
The boy then turned his attention to the blood splattered streets below him, spotting two soldiers that he recognized from the cadets. Seeing movement, he instantly sailed to them, knowing the ground was the most dangerous place to be in the wake of titans. Why were they there and not on the rooftops? That was one of the first rules all cadets learned from their courses as a trainee. Were they both grounded? Out of gas?
"Um, Hannah? Franz?" Armin queried, his voice smaller than he anticipated as he address the two older members of the cadets. He himself barely knew them, but most knew the two were head over heels in love – the couple even speaking of the possibility of marriage in the bleak future, a thing that was hard to come by in the military for it just foreshadowed misery. Just as he was about to question them again, he stopped himself as he realized what was playing out before him. Hannah was frantic, in a fear induced trance as she performed CPR on her unconscious lover. However closer inspection upon Franz's condition made Armin's stomach turn over and his small breakfast nearly leave him. The older male was unmistakably dead; everything below his ribs was gone – certainly in a titan's gullet. Intestines, other organs, and life's precious juices were strung messily upon the brick surface. Despite the fact that her mate was obviously deceased, Hannah remained over him asking hopelessly for his return as she attempted to replenish air into his lungs. Armin bit his lip, trying to keep vomit from leaving him as he gradually placed a hand onto her shoulder. "Hannah… I'm sorry but Franz is –
To his dismay, she only brushed him off, acting like he wasn't there as she continued her attempts to revive. Armin's face paled as he slowly took a few steps in recoil. He could not help her; her mind was gone and trapped in a hopeless cycle – a product of war. Still, he attempted to bring her back to reality with trembling words, but she was gone, even as he shook and yelled at her for attention. He was useless. He could do nothing.
Hearing the footfalls of an approaching end, Armin abandoned the couple and flew to the nearest rooftop. The blonde then pulled the trigger on his right hilt, but no cable shot from the barrel and was instead replaced by a rippling click that made his heart stop. A malfunction.
A death sentence.
Unable to control his movements, Armin braced himself as he fell from the rainy sky like a large clump of hail. His petite frame then hit the rooftop and sent him violently rolling and flipping among the clay plates. After what seemed like an eternity of punishing hits, Armin finally came to a stop with his body awkwardly sprawled out upon the edge of the roof. He gritted his teeth as he slowly sat upright, trying his best to ignore the throbbing in his side and the aches crippling his body. His gaze then quickly shot to his gear, heart rate going up as he silently declared the expanse of the malfunction. It was a cable jam and perhaps the worst kind of malfunction one could have with their gear for if always required the user to take the mechanism apart – a difficult task that required tools and a good amount of time. Both of which he didn't have. Armin's chest tightened, skin paled to the shade of flour and water welled up in his eyes. He was a sitting duck, doomed, and done.
He was an appetizer on a silver platter.
Finally, his brick wall he had built around his emotions had crumbled. As a result, Armin submitted himself into a lifeless daze. In no time, he would be dead and there would be no witnesses to record the event. Tears leaked fully onto his still rounded cheeks as he thought of how his life had been. All those times with his grandfather, the Jaegers, and the times with Mikasa and Rogue in the forest – he would never have the privilege to remember them. He would never see his two best friends again. It was over.
A deep set of vibrations then sounded before him and rattled his frame. Armin glanced up to see a thirteen-meter titan mere feet from him. It looked like the average old man, a bald head with a grey and white beard – one that was stained red and coated in dried blood. Its easy eyes and false gentle smile masking its intentions and mocking death. Armin sighed, accepting wholeheartedly that his time had come, letting the titan pluck him from the roof and hold his body over its widening maw. The foul reek of decay and a scorching heat surrounded him, making his nose wrinkle and his tearful eyes burn. The creature then released its hold on the teen's jacket and Armin fell with a wet slap onto the titan's tongue. As the creature tilted its head back to swallow, the boy's mind suddenly snapped as his body slid toward the titan's throat. He screamed. He didn't want to leave the cruel world yet even though his demise was rapidly and undeniably approaching.
Suddenly, another hand encased his own, gripping it in such a stronghold that the blonde's knuckles popped in protest. Armin looked up to see none other than Mikasa, her face twisted in both determination and anguish as she held the titan's gaping jaws open with a sturdy hold.
The teen then pulled. "You're not dying on me." She forced through her teeth and without another word, yanked with all of her strength and flung Armin out of the ring of fire and back to the rooftop.
With adrenaline racing throughout his veins, he turned to see Mikasa facing him with her features molded to reflect her anger and frustrations. To his horror, the titan's jaw was beginning to weigh down and go slack. With the position she held, Mikasa was done for.
"Mikasa no!" He pleaded, scrambling to his feet to make any attempt to rescue. He couldn't lose her! She couldn't be taken from him too! No!
The dark –haired teen suddenly smiled softly, donning a guise on her fear. "Don't worry, Armin." Mikasa spoke roughly. "We are still going to see the ocean."
"Mikasa!" Armin cried, watching in horror as the titan's jaws began to close.
Before he could release any more cries of desperation, Mikasa suddenly shifted and pulled out her sword, thrusting it into the top of the bearded titan's mouth. The beast then let out a screech of agony, seizing the chance, Mikasa jumped from the open jaws to the terra cotta rooftop to join Armin. Before he could speak a word in gratitude, the girl then shot a cable to a nearby steeple and propelled herself into motion. The skillful soldier then circled once to be at the precise angle, and drove her blades deep into the titan's nape – killing it instantly.
It was then silent as Mikasa landed next to Armin, her face emotionless as it usually was, fashioned to contain any emotions from her past trauma. Finally, Armin remembered to breathe.
"Mikasa, I – thank you." The boy muttered as he fell to his knees, eye water fully breaking the dam. "I – would be dead if it weren't for you! My squad, Thomas, Mina, they're all dead! My gear malfunctioned, my cables are jammed! I –
"Armin." She spoke, voice abnormally calm as she lowered to his level and placed a hand supportingly onto his. "Now is not the time to get emotional. We have to focus. Right now," Mikasa continued as she slowly indicated behind her. "We have a big problem on our hands."
With golden brows rising in question, Armin looked in the direction of his friend's gesture to see another grim misfortune. The military headquarters of Trost was plagued with an infestation, titans attempting to burrow into the structure's walls like maggots into decomposed meat. It was the worst case scenario. The gas used to propel their maneuver gear, as well as replacement parts, was deep in the cellar of the large building. She was correct about the predicament being a vast one. Every soldier was dead if they couldn't get their supplies. Armin swallowed, knowing how slim their chances were.
"How much gas do you have?" He asked, the teen's voice hoarse from the excess stress. Mikasa sighed.
"Not much. Some cadets are out already. Jean and Marco's squads have pooled together trying to figure out a way to get in headquarters. As far as they know the supply teams are still inside, but with the place crawling with titans – it's likely that they are trapped. If I had to guess, I'd say they are running on fumes right about now." She informed. "We should probably meet up with them and help come up with a plan."
Armin only nodded, but then a frown came to his face as the sight of his maim gear reminded him of his misfortune. "Mikasa – as odd as it sounds, you'll have to somehow carry me. As I said, my gear is useless."
The girl sighed, one that Armin could not determine if it was one of exacerbation or understanding. With the sound of their approaching enemy, Mikasa then instructed the blonde teenager to wrap his arms around her broad shoulders and his legs around her waist. Armin held his breath as the awkwardness of the situation settled deep past his skin, but it was their only option so he gripped as tight as humanly possible for his frail frame. Of course, the only worry that made itself known was the likely possibility that Mikasa wouldn't be able maneuver with his added weight. However, he had to trust her, there were no other choices and they were far too venerable if they remained.
Mikasa then fired her cable to the nearest building, launching the two airborne with a mighty trust. Wind and light rain smacked and stung his face as they sailed at an incredible rate of speed. Armin winced, holding tightly as Mikasa soared over the structures of Trost, narrowly avoiding titans in their retreat. It was amazing, even holding his skittish frame; the girl was still able to perform with grace. Yes, there were reasons that Mikasa was the top of their class – this being one of them. Armin silently pitied himself; he wasn't of much use when it came to his roll as a soldier. He was lousy at maneuvering, average at the most and even poorer when it came to combat. The only things that he had to contribute were his strategic planning and his knowledge of survival in the wilderness. Other than that, he was just baggage in his mind's eye.
With another surge, the two flew forward again – the speed incredible. Armin tightened his grip harder, his digits throbbing and growing white. He didn't know how much longer he could hold. They were going so fast, too fast. Armin's eyes then widened in alarm; his concerned gaze shifting to the exhaust expelling from Mikasa's tanks.
'There's not much gas left! She's running on vapors!' He thought frantically. 'At this rate Mikasa will –
Suddenly, the exhaust ceased with a single hiss, signaling that the soldier's tanks were empty. The two simultaneously began to fall to the earth. As if on instinct, the larger of the teens wrapped her around his body in a protective embrace seconds before they hit a plated rooftop relentlessly. Friction did nothing to aid them as they rolled violently, Armin's teeth nearly going trough his tongue with the force. Unable to stop, the two fell from the four-story rooftop to the ground below. As a last ditch effort, Armin managed to squeeze the trigger of his broken gear, expelling a strong enough puff of exhaust to soften their descent. Their bodies then hit like rag dolls upon a wooden dumpster, knocking the wind out of their lungs but otherwise leaving them relatively unharmed with the exception of a few minor cuts and bruises.
For a long moment, Armin found himself looking up into the cloudy sky before noticing Mikasa doing the same. He watched as she slowly rose her blade to examine it, seeing that nearly half of it was broken off, her pale face remaining stagnant, not even reflecting the slightest hint of pain. She then sighed and slowly lowered her arm, turning to acknowledge him after what seemed like a brief but deep moment of thought.
"You okay?" She asked, obviously hiding discomfort and agony in her voice.
Armin nodded. "Yeah. Are you?"
Mikasa then sat up, mouth in a firm line as she held back a grunt in discomfort. "Yes. Nothing seems to be broken, but I may have a bruised rib." The raven-haired teen informed as she gradually stood and offered her hand to him.
He nodded in generosity as he accepted her invitation. Once standing, the two then climbed from the dumpster and onto solid ground. Armin then scanned their surroundings, taking note that they stood in a wide alley that was void of any previous hints of merriment – just a simple place that was probably used to tether horses and park carriages or to dispose of shit. It was just bland and ordinary. Mikasa then exhaled a strained breath.
"And I thought it couldn't get any worse."
"Mikasa," Armin began softly. "Are you sure you're –
"Yes." She replied. "What do we do now? I'm out of gas and your gear is shot."
The teen's hands then snaked to the tanks on his gear, trying to pull them from their holster. "I still have some gas left. It's not much, but we can't waste it." He spoke quickly as he continued his attempts to pry the tank from the bent braces of his holsters. "You'll have to use this sparingly in order for us to get to the other –
Armin's words were suddenly cut off as the sound of a heavy footfall met his ears and a great vibration coursed all throughout his frame. His breath hitched as he beheld an approaching fourteen-meter with a distended belly and mockingly idiotic grin. His heart hammered. That was it, how it was going to end. They were succorless prey. Still, Armin pulled at the gas tank with all his strength with Mikasa's aid, but their efforts were futile.
'Well, at least we lived a good life.' He thought as the titan kneeled with its arm outstretched before it, palm open to make the grab. 'A harsh life, but still a good one.'
The titan's fingertips then became inches before their faces, provoking Armin to end his observation and await death. However, hot blood sprayed his face and forced him to open his eyes, seeing that Mikasa's broken blade had severed the monster's index and pointer finger. Before he could register anything further, her hands forcefully shoved him to the side – the two narrowly escaping the titan's hand as it came crashing down onto the very spot where they had been moments before. The fourteen-meter swung again, missing by inches as Mikasa guided them away once again. The blonde watched as Mikasa intuitively got into a defensive stance, damaged blade ready to sever flesh as the titan struggled to get to its feet after falling upon its face. Armin's current state was a mixture of awe and fear. Mikasa was incredible. Even with all odds against her, she still kept going – fighting even in the darkest and bleakest of times. Why couldn't he be like that?
It was so much like someone he knew, someone that kept on trying despite his limitations. Someone that was always protective no matter what was thrown at him.
The titan then stood upright, blocking a stray ray of sunlight and outlining the two teens in a looming shadow. Once more, the monster reached out to grasp their helpless bodies. Armin then sighed in preparation, nearly letting his mind go blank.
He had a good life.
Suddenly, the earth shook relentlessly. Massive vibrations jolted their bodies, rattling the bricks beneath their feet, and shattering every window around them. Shingles fell from rooftops and foundations cracked. Armin and Mikasa's eyes grew wide in terror. Something was coming. Something fast, something BIG. Before he could call his friend's name, the two teenagers were suddenly launched several feet off the walk by a forceful impact just behind them – the ground rippling in waves. Eyes reluctantly looked up to see a massive form sailing over them and a giant fist slamming into the titan's face.
Armin and Mikasa then met the earth once again, ground shaking as the fourteen-meter landed and slid quite a distance from them. He blinked in disbelief, what the hell just happened? The boy then turned to Mikasa to question, but froze as he witnessed her fixed gaze and petrified form, listening to the savage and deep breaths that filled the alley. Armin then turned to see something that made his heart leap from its cradle in his chest.
There, standing with his side to them, was none other than Rogue himself.
A smile nearly came to his face, but quickly dissipated as he continued to scrutinize the fifteen-meter behemoth in silent shock. The titan was indeed Rogue, but clearly not the gentle version he remembered. For the first time in years, Armin was almost terrified of the titan. Rogue stood in a defiant stance, muscles tight and rippling beneath the creature's hostile breaths – rolling and bulging with each subtle movement of his immense frame. The titan's hands twitched unstably while his tapered ears were pressed flat against his messy locks that were stringy and still damp from the rain. However, the thing that alarmed Armin the most was Rogue's face. The titan's brows were furrowed and his hooked nose was wrinkled in rage, skin around his teeth and the corners of his gaping mouth were pulled back in what he could call a manic snarl. Rogue's emerald eyes were nothing but feral, reflecting the rage of a wild animal and glistening in madness. In all the years of knowing him, Armin had never seen Rogue look so lethal.
He could hardly believe this titan was his friend. It was evident; Rogue really WAS The Rogue Titan of legend.
"Rogue?" Mikasa managed to squeak, the small sound barely heard by Armin's ears. "My god, Rogue what –
The muscular behemoth then let out a low and rickety growl that made the teens' skin prickle, tresses of steam rising from the crevices of the creature's teeth. The titan turned slightly, harsh greens glaring at their pitiful target in nothing but hatred and wrath – glowing ominously from beneath the shaggy locks. Suddenly, Rogue threw back his head and released a bloodcurdling roar that shook everything around them to its roots - the titan's bellow so tremendous and vocally potent that the two teens struggled to protect their ears, the roar nearly making Armin's eardrums rupture. Without further hesitation, Rogue charged forward and began to brutally assault the titan before him. Thunderous cries and the nauseating sound of snapping bone and ripping flesh filled the alley. Armin looked on in terror as Rogue repeatedly threw his fists into his adversary. The fifteen-meter's eyes burned bright like an inferno as the beast savagely tore into the titan's limbs, ripping them free and coating everything in hot crimson. The titan beneath Rogue wailed in agony, a cry that Armin could not compare to any other plea he had every heard, the titan practically being dissected alive. Rogue's hands then plunged into the monster's bulging abdomen, pulling out anything his clawed fingers could grasp, the wounded creature below him now letting out muffled moans – incapable of even screaming as its belly rose and fell in short intervals. The green-eyed titan roared again and began to separate the other's spine from the pelvis, blood spraying every surface and ornamenting Rogue's tan frame. Armin's body drained of color as the titan continued to break and sever his opponent; Rogue now stomping continually on the thirteen-meter's neck. He simply could not believe that this was the same gentle titan that nurtured them in the forest. The very titan that purred, laughed, and would continuously want to play or snuggle with them was now beating the life out another titan and relishing in its blood – still delivering heavy and violent blows even after the monster beneath him was long dead.
"It's like – watching a manifestation of humanity's anger and rage." Mikasa uttered from paled lips, transfixed on the mind crippling slaughter before her. "Rogue. Oh Rogue…" Mikasa trailed off, voice showing maternal concern and reflecting a caring predisposition.
Rogue then planted his foot down; twisting his leg slightly as if trying to squash a large bug, onto what little was left of the nape. The titan then leaned slightly and screeched a wordless bout of dominance before standing upright to smirk and what Armin could say was admiring his masterpiece of blood and sinew. Rogue then roared once more, head and threat angled to the heavens. The boy swallowed the bile in his throat, scrutinizing the blood soaked alley and body of his vast friend. Never did he think that he would see his friend in such a monstrous state ever again. Was it possible that Rogue had gone completely mad in their absence?
Just when Armin thought the titan was about to pause and look to them, his feral hues shot to another titan a block away – leaving his kill and prowling right for it. Not even noticing the spooked teens.
For several pensive moments, the two remained almost comatose as they watched steam billow from the carcass and pools of red. Finally, the raven-haired girl snapped from her trance and yanked the gas tank from Armin's gear.
"My God! Armin we should not have left him! He's insane! We have to go!" She cried frantically as she replaced her empty tanks. "We have to go Armin! I have to see Rogue! I have to speak to him!"
"Mikasa!" Armin pleaded as he grasped her shoulders in restraint. "Mikasa, we can't!"
Her grey eyes then looked deep into his, a newly lit fire burning in the silvery hues. "Armin! It's been YEARS!"
He dithered, trying to sort through facts and possible explanations. "Mikasa! Listen to me! I know you want to speak to him, I do too – but right now we can't do that! Look, Rogue is here for a reason. Whatever it is we can't let him see us. I think," Armin gulped as he tried to tie loose ends. "He may still be aware, a normal titan would have attacked us first without hesitation. Whether or not he still remembers us, Rogue has a purpose in mind. He's satisfying a taste for revenge."
Mikasa quivered, struggling to hold back tears. "Armin, he didn't even notice us."
"Right, but he may have just overlooked us. There are titans everywhere and blood all over the alley, plus we've grown in the past years. His sense of smell is probably just overwhelmed." Armin continued, amazed that he was able to think and come up with accusations so quickly. "Mikasa, I know you don't want to hear this, but if there is a possibility that Rogue is looking for us we have to keep out of sight. If he sees us and tries to communicate by whatever means he chooses, especially his licking, everyone will think he's just a regular titan trying to eat us!"
The teen opened her mouth to reply, but quickly repelled her words. It was a brief moment of tense silence before Mikasa dipped her head in disenchantment. "Yeah, you're right Armin. If we want Rogue to be safe, we can't let him see us. However, the fact that he's here and killing his own kind has probably generated interest and perhaps fear. We – need to trail him until we need more gas. I don't want anyone not knowing the situation killing him." She sighed. "I couldn't live with myself."
Armin nodded at her words with understanding. He couldn't argue with her. To ensure their situation at hand, they could not leave Rogue no matter what his current state of mind. Once again, the blonde sheepishly wrapped himself around Mikasa as they took to the air again. The two then landed a few rooftops over, taking refuge just behind the spine of the hipped roof. Armin and Mikasa observed as Rogue eyed a nearby fifteen-meter plastered with a permanent scowl on its face. The titan's stride smooth for his massive frame, each step perfectly precise and paced - the stride of a hunter after its prey. This amazed Armin, the humanoid giant's predatory gate was something that Rogue had unquestionably mastered. A cat or wolf would envy him.
Suddenly a whizzing sound followed by a thud behind them forced the teens to peel their eyes away from Rogue to see something that they admittedly, almost dreaded. Connie stood, chest heaving as he took a moment to ease his lungs with Armin silently panicking. For the sake of their plan, he began to think of escape routes from the truth.
"Thank god! We've been looking for you! Did you –
However, Connie's words drained in his throat as his eyes caught the sight of Rogue and the advancing fifteen-meter, his skin caked with miniscule bumps. "Holy Crap, two fifteen-meter titans! Shit! Mikasa! Armin! We need to…"
"Wait." The girl spoke stern and unexpectedly, the two males staring at her in confusion.
"That one." She pointed to Rogue. "Watch him."
Connie glared at her in confusion before the eyes of the small party witnessed Rogue come to a halt. The great titan's muscles tightened as he released an almost eerie and unworldly but powerful howl – saliva flying from his lipless maw with ears pinned and nearly folded over. The other beast returned Rogue's display with an almost pitiful excuse for a warning – one that Rogue would take no heed to. The feral fifteen-meter behemoth then did something that Armin, Mikasa, and Connie had never seen before.
Rogue raised his arms and clenched his fists, getting into a fighting stance that was the product of dedicated practice. The titan emerald pools stared intently at their mark, wide, wild, and unblinking.
'Hand to hand combat?" Armin questioned internally. 'Where did Rogue learn –
Before any of the other teens could point the fact out, the opposing fifteen-meter charged for the waiting giant. Within an instant Rogue threw a hand forward in a devastating haymaker, hitting the titan square upside its neck. Skin split and muscles tore as the monster's head was severed from its shoulders, flying nearly sixty meters before ramming into a spire atop a building. With breaths caught in their chests, the cadets watched as the headless mass fell before Rogue. As the creature attempted to blindly get up, the titan brought his foot down effortlessly onto the nape to finish the atrocity off. Rogue then paused to snort in disgust, making it almost appear that he was going to spit at the carcass in clear antipathy before setting his unbridled green eyes onto a new and nearby target – walking away with no shred of concern for the hunk of flesh.
As Rogue began to tangle with his new victim, Armin finally released his breath with Connie ultimately gasping in shock.
"Was, was that titan who I thought it was? The Rogue Titan?" Connie exclaimed, a grin pulling at his face. Mikasa nodded.
"Yes. That titan is indeed The Rogue himself." She informed coolly, keeping her emotions in check. Armin blinked again in question before he caught on to Mikasa's act.
"We've been watching him." Armin articulated as he pointed to the still evaporating corpse in the alley, observing the boy's eyes grow in size. "He's been killing titans. As far as how many, I'm not sure. But it's clear he has no reaction to us."
Connie then broke free from his stupor. "Holy Shit! Ha! The Rogue Titan of legend in the flesh!" He nearly squealed. "Damn! He's as menacing as I pictured him! The muscles, the shaggy dark hair, his teeth, those elf like ears, and those glowing green eyes! He's an animal!"
"Yeah, he's something alright." Mikasa added, glancing at Armin from the corner of her eye as if she was waiting on him to speak. The blonde continued to watch Rogue's slaughter, an idea suddenly popped into his head.
"I have a plan. It's crazy, but I hope you two hear me out." Armin began, observing as the two cadets became engrossed. "My gear is useless and Mikasa is running low on gas. I'm sure everyone else is in a similar state."
Connie nodded in agreement. "Yeah, most of us are stranded or running on fumes." He paused. "Armin where are you going with this?"
"Well, we need to dispatch the titans surrounding headquarters, right? Why not fight fire with fire? We could lure the other titans to The Rogue so he will follow us to headquarters."
"Wait. You want to recruit a TITAN?" Connie exaggerated. Mikasa nodded.
"Armin is right. It might be our only shot. We could take back headquarters with one sweep if this works."
The teen dithered, blinking repeatedly as he weighed his options before letting a sly smile come to his face. "I'm in, but we'll look like idiots if we screw this up!"
With plan set in stone, the three left the rooftop and made their way to Rogue. Armin swallowed, holding awkwardly onto Connie as Mikasa led the way, acting as a spear if needed. He watched as Rogue planted a fist into a titan's face, forcing it into a building, before the fifteen-meter could turn to face another titan that was racing to his side, Mikasa quickly cut the creature down before speeding away. Sure enough, Rogue's interest was piqued, the titan's tapered ears following the sound of Mikasa's maneuver gear. Before Rogue could turn to spot them, Connie propelled after the female cadet. Armin then let his mind focus, but then his ears picked up a familiar sound – a distressed whine like that of an adult looking for its young or an adolescent pleading for its mother.
He stood almost motionless, his mind in a state of bewilderment and his heart high in his chest. Rogue moaned in desperation, sniffing the tainted air assertively. He was sure of it. It was them. It was his little ones. They were here after all! The titan took a step forward, his eyes searching urgently for the two familiar humans – but they were nowhere. Rogue then turned his attention to the flying humans again, a brow rising in query. It was no mistake that he had smelt his little ones. He shifted on the balls of his feet, a habit he displayed when deep in thought. These flying humans were different from those he had seen in his forest. Instead of the marking of a wing, these uniformed humans had two blades on their backs. In all the time he had lived inside the walls, Rogue had never seen this particular breed. Was it possible that they were like the flying humans in his forest? Just a different variety that stayed within the walls? They looked young compare to the others as well; perhaps this was the growth stage before the flying humans. Whoever the blade backs were, his little one's scent seemed connected to them. Could it be that these new uniformed men knew where his companions were? They had to; perhaps if he trailed them, the uniformed men would lead him to his beloved children.
Rogue then watched as the small cluster of humans flew toward the largest human residence he had ever seen, narrowly avoiding his kin's grabby attempts to devour. The titan's ears angled forward and eyes grew wide in attentiveness as he saw it. Scaling and surrounding the vast fortress was nearly a dozen of titans attempting to dig or claw their way past the stone barrier. Rogue's worried and concerned disposition morphed into frustration and boiling anger. It was clear that there were humans trapped inside even at the distance he was, most of the tiny two legged creatures flying for it at top speed with great levels of apprehension discharging from their bodies. A disgusted snarl escaped his throat as his nose flared and jade hues narrowed at his enemies' wrongdoing. Whatever the human structure was, it seemed to be of a great importance to the humans. It had to have been very vital, perhaps they used it like the small stinging insects, bees if he remembered correctly, like a hive to store their belongings like the bees did with their liquid gold. Not only that, but the scent of his little ones was pointing to the structure like a needle on a compass.
The titan then charged forward, fists ready to obliterate his foes and face giving in to another angry grimace. The humans needed help to save their hive and with the potential that his little ones were there, he could not move on with his violent exploration of the town. He had to take care of the problem and find a solution. Rogue then soaked himself in rage again.
The crimson product of a thirteen-meter sprayed the two teens' faces as Mikasa yet again carved out the weak spot with skilled precision. Despite the hot temperature of the blood, Armin glanced from the corner of his eyes to check in on the status of his plan. Sure enough, Rogue was racing after them – the look of ferocity and vengeance worn on his face as the titan almost easily dispatched those that were in his way. Armin could barely believe his friend's developments that had transpired. Although Rogue had not changed physically, his sense of protection and fulfilling revenge was something that Armin both feared and admired.
Then there was the whine – a single toned sound that told the boy a telling tale. However as of yet, he could not pinpoint whether the story was fiction or nonfiction. If it was indeed what he believed it to be, Rogue was not insane like he previously thought –rather that the titan was looking for them. Armin gulped, he hated that he had to keep out of his friends sight, especially since they had not had contact with one another in years. But for Rogue's safety, it had to be done.
The trio then swerved from another close encounter and aligned with the window of the third floor of Trost's headquarters. Bracing for impact, Armin strengthened his grip and shielded his eyes seconds before their bodies crashed through the translucent glass. The teens landed on the wooden floor and shards, taking a moment to gather themselves before examining their surroundings. In the large room that had once been primarily used for office space and file keeping before the day had dawned. Now, the room was nothing but a barricade full of shaken and petrified cadets. The smell of secretion tainted the air along with the foul odor of precious crimson – the creation made by wounded soldiers and a few that passed do to injury or suicide. To Armin's relief, most of the cadets that he knew personally were there, but the question was why they were there and not back out in the heat of the battle?
"Mikasa?" Jean uttered, obviously in a disguised state of relief that the girl was in one piece.
"Thank god you guys made it!" Marco exclaimed, face suddenly changing into one of panic. 'Listen! We have a big problem in the cellar! There are titans –
A loud whistling sound incited the panicked room to grow deathly quiet. Suddenly, a section of the headquarters outer wall gave in, debris flying across the distance of the room and sending several cadets off their feet. Armin coughed, struggling to rid the dust from his lungs. When the smoke cleared, he and the others were met by the eyes of two large titans that were eagerly inhaling the scents of their desired meals – dead eyes wide in nothing but starvation. The souls of those in the room then began to panic like hens sought after by foxes.
"There are too many people! They can smell us!"
"We're all going to die!"
"Hurry! We need to get further in!"
Armin and Mikasa struggled to get their footing, soreness and fatigue grasping at their tired joints. However, before most could move, a sizeable fist smacked upside of the peering titan's head. Bones caved beneath brute strength and eyes bobbed from sockets, popping out and separating from their dim owners. Blood splattered the interior of the room in an abstract fashion, glorifying the space with shreds of skin and facial tissues. The two titans then fell back to the earth with none other than Rogue himself landing before the hole, glaring at his fallen prey with fiery rage and chaotic purpose. The great beast then roared in authority, once again breaking the glass of the intact windows and shaking the foundation with the deep and lurid bellow.
"What the hell!" Jean exclaimed in bewilderment as he and many other cadets, including Armin and Mikasa, joined him in the gaping opening, watching in awe as the fifteen-meter began to prowl once again.
"Oh yeah! Armin, Mikasa, and I came across this guy! He's The Rogue Titan!" Connie informed elatedly, causing a swarm of interest and excitement to spread throughout the group of cadets. "He's been slaughtering titans left and right!" The teen guffawed. "Yup! This big beautiful son of a bitch is our ticket out of here!"
The group of young spectators watched in awe as Rogue lunged and threw a first into another unsuspecting titan, the dull creature landing with its neck twisted. Rogue roared again, projecting his anger far into the heavens that were now bathed in intense sunlight.
"Are you fucking kidding!" Jean harshly disagreed with golden eyes glaring daggers into Connie. "A titan is not going to help us!"
Armin found himself vastly ignoring the teen's words as he watched a translucent membrane cover Rogue's uncompromising eyes – a trait that his friend had never revealed to he or Mikasa during their stays with him. The fifteen-meter deviant then pivoted sharply on his feet, skillfully surprising another advancing titan by bracing the monster's shoulder. The cadets' faces fell at the sight of Rogue turning and throwing the entire weight of his opponent head over heels – a hand to hand combat move that was difficult for even the strongest of soldiers. Rogue then released his grip, sending the bulky specimen plowing over a collection of smaller titans. Another loud bellow erupted from their unlikely ally's throat before the massive titan threw himself into the bedlam again.
"It is working Jean." Mikasa spoke sternly after a long moment of tense silence with eyes nearly narrowed at the troublesome male who looked on at her in silent reasoning. "Right now, we're defenseless without gas. The Rogue Titan is keeping the others off and away from this building. Let him rampage."
Jean opened his mouth to retort with yet another disagreement before retreating from his advance. Instead, he joined the others in watching the storming Rogue. The green-eyed megalith then sank his teeth into the jugular of another titan, nails puncturing its skin as he snarled through his vice grip. Blood then leaked and sprayed several meters as Rogue's jaw clenched further upon the esophagus of his prey, muscles in his toned neck bulging with incredible fortitude. Then, with a smooth jerk, Rogue ripped the titan's throat open for all witnesses of his hunt to see. The wounded creature then began to choke on its own blood, Rogue's eyes seemingly lighting up in great pleasure at the display of suffering. Effortlessly, the fifteen-meter braced his open palm onto the face of his foe, and with a firm push, bent the monster's neck in two with the attached head barely hanging over the titan's frail shoulders. Armin stomach nearly turned over as Rogue then planted his teeth into the exposed neck again, savagely tearing through torn muscle and biting into the spinal column. To most of their horror and shock, Rogue then pulled the vital connection of bones up and out of his adversary's lame body, making several of the cadets vomit the content of their stomachs as the titan's body instantly collapsed on itself in a sickening form of disfigurement.
"Holy crap," Marco muttered. "He's incredible. It's like its too easy for him."
"Wow." Krista began softly. "The Rogue is so amazing. A lot of our previous accusations like him being thirty meters are defiantly off, but he's better than I imagined him really. He's not only fierce looking but he's – he's so powerful." The small girl spoke in amazement as the titan continued to spill blood.
"He's like a bull, the color red only provokes him further." Sasha added as she watched Rogue tear limb from body. "He's amazing!"
Connie laughed. "Hell yeah, this guy's insane! He's probably killed more titans than the Scouts combined!" The boy announced, turning to the opening with hands cupped around his mouth. "Yeah! Kick their assess!" The teen projected as a form of encouragement, ignoring the looks his fellow cadets gave him. Armin swallowed; the last thing he wanted to happen was that someone was going to grab Rogue's attention.
And to he and Mikasa's dismay, the titan paused his massacre – making the weary cadets freeze in fear as Rogue's pointed ears flickered to the source of the unexpected optimism. Thinking quickly, Mikasa and Armin backed into the shadows just as the fifteen-meter titan turned his head sharply in their direction, piercing green eyes glaring deep into the soldiers' souls. Breaths hitched and were held as Rogue kept his gaze glued to the party of teens, never blinking once even as several hands snaked down to their blades. The titan seemed to notice this, pupils dilating and scrutinizing the deadly instruments before bearing into faces yet again – brows pinching together in distrust. Armin swallowed a wad of apprehension, would his friend really attack them?
"Fuck Connie!" Jean whispered bitterly. "Now you just added us to his to do list!"
The other teen didn't reply; sweat beading up upon the male's face as the fifteen-meter continued his intense glare. To their surprise, Rogue snorted a cloud of steam in a cocky manner and almost rolled his fierce hues before turning away to continue his hunt. Sighs of relief then swept the room like high wave, some cadets looking as if they were on the verge of fainting. Armin and Mikasa then rejoined the curious group, watching in utmost disbelief as Rogue picked up a small seven meter and held its shoulders firmly, fingers soaking with blood as they burrowed down to bone. A piercing screech then filled the air as the vast beast then proceeded to tear his outmatched opponent straight down the middle, halving the creature from its neck down to its groin. Armin's hand flew to his mouth, struggling to hold his stomach contents at the gory display. Blood pooled in a lake beneath Rogue's feet, the severed titan's gut falling to the earth with its contents visible through the thin patches of the lining. The large titan then flung the steaming corpse away, paying no head to his own crimson-coated body as he released another bout of rage – the sound dangerously close to insane pleasure.
"At least with him going at it out there, none of the other titans will come in – but of course there is the issue of the cellar."
Hearing Marco's words, Armin screwed a lid on his nausea and turned to the freckled teen, puzzled by his statement.
"What's with the cellar?"
Marco dithered, biting his tongue. "Well, the other reason why the supply team couldn't get us gas was that somehow about seven four to five meter range titans had somehow gotten in. Right now, we don't have many ideas of how to get down there and flush them out."
Armin blinked at the gave news. Things just seemed to get worse and worse. The blonde then began to ponder, cogs turning as he tried to think of an execution that would work with minimum casualties. As he deliberated, Armin observed Rogue punt a small five-meter with incredibly ease, sending it flying far into the neighboring streets. How he wished that they could kill titans as easily as Rogue without gear. Now that he was in the military, Armin envied that aspect of his titanic friend. Then, after a few moments of sulking in his worries, Armin had an idea.
The titan sat perched upon the human hive. The sky was beginning to stain with brilliant oranges and bloody reds. He was admittedly growing tired. Rogue's muscles were beginning to take on a familiar ache and strain. If he made it to the following day, his morning was gong to be rough. However, that did not steer him from his ambitions. Grasping stone and lifting himself up on a high tower, Rogue released a wordless declaration of claim – the projecting roar echoing all throughout the human residences. This human hive was his and only his. For the safety of its occupants, he had declared that he and only he could touch it.
Rogue willingly released a breath of steam, observing the cityscape around him. Worry and fear began to settle within him again. After defeating his kin attempting to get into the human hive, the titan had tried to call out for his little ones again. To his disappointment the blade backed humans had retreated into their hive, leaving him with no soul to gesture to. He found them odd – they were childish. Enthused to a point where one with a shaved head called out to him, tone one of reassurance. Truthfully, it had caught him off guard. It was rare that humans ever did something like that. From what Rogue knew about the wall uniformed men, they only pointed, drank, and passed green leaves to one another in merriment as he hunted – these actions always followed by human tongue and pointing. So when the praise came, he was surprised to hear it. However, when he saw a few hands hovering over blades, he announced his distrust with a nonthreatening gesticulation – hoping that none of these humans would keep his little ones away.
However, he did feel appreciative that they had taken to hiding his little ones deep into the hive away from the exterior dangers. Rogue scoffed again as he watched a cluster of titans enter the district through the hole in the wall. How much more could there be? There were already dozens of titans ravaging through the human city. He was growing exhausted from his hunt; he couldn't deal with much more of his kind. Although he loved the display of red hues and the feeling of revenge, he would have to stop at some point. Not only that, but he couldn't retrieve his little ones let alone talk or bring them from the depths of the human shelter without the high chance that they could be ambushed by his kind. Even though he marked the hive as his, the titan wasn't entirely sure that the technique worked. Of course, he feared for the other humans too, they didn't deserve any of this. But he couldn't keep tearing apart his own kind. Each moment he wasted, more humans died. Damn, it all felt like it was on his account.
Rogue dipped his head in thought, he had to do something – think of a way to stop the titans from entering the city. But what! Then, something deep in his conscious clicked. Although he loathed the idea, he would have to avoid his kin at costs unless it was necessary. Instead, he would take back the district. The gaping orifice that allowed the titans entry needed to be plugged. Near the gate, Rogue recalled seeing a large boulder that was nearly three times his own weight. It would be perfect, and it was perhaps the strongest thing to keep the titans at bay. Sure, he wasn't positive if he could lift it – but he was stubborn.
He was going to do it.
A cluster of cadets took to the air, supplies replenished and bodies somewhat revived. Armin stood before the gaping hole on the façade of headquarters, adjusting and checking his levels of gas on his new set of gear, slightly proud of his accomplishment – something that had finally gone in his favor. He had come up with a carefully organized plan to use the lift of the supply room to blind the seven titans while the most skilled with their pairing blades took the beasts down. The first task was the simplest step, getting the titan's to notice them – something that took no effort since titans came running to a human's scent like called dogs. Next was blinding the creatures with bullets to the eye, forbidding vision as the most adroit of the soldiers rained from the above rafters to execute their targets. Their unlikely and doubtful success was a relief. Now, due to his plan, the cadets were back in the field.
Finishing his task, Armin looked up in search of Mikasa. After their discovery of Rogue, Armin could not leave her side or abandon the task of monitoring their oversize friend. He soon spotted her atop a nearby building standing with a few other recruits – all gazing before them. Feeling worry tug at him, Armin launched himself into the air to land with Mikasa. At the sight of her, he swallowed. The girl's face was pale as porcelain with every tense muscle in her body like stone. Her eyes were blown wide and her chest barely moved, only rising with a trembling breath.
"Look there." She uttered, voice stricken with quiet panic.
Following her demand, Armin entered a similar state as he saw it – a state of mind that nearly everyone possessed on the rooftop. Surrounded by at least six titans was Rogue, armless and almost backed into a corner. The boy's eyes widened as he saw the titan's chest heaving in enervation. Armin swallowed fretfully, the fifteen-meter was defiantly showing strain, a sign that Rogue was incredibly focused and occupied by his kills before they had indirectly reunited. It was very clear, Rogue was exhausted – and to make the situation worse, the day was growing shorter. The powerful titan had no time to recharge.
Although he wasn't sure why the titans were gaining up on Rogue, but perhaps it was like predators seeking out the weak or injured. Amin shivered, the titan was both of those things at the moment. Before he could lean in and exchange a whisper, another terrifying sight caught his eyes and stopped his advance. Coming up an established road, was a lanky fourteen-meter with long thin appendages and short blonde hair. Armin had, to his great misfortune, seen it just hours before. The mindless titan was a certainly a dangerous one – an abnormal – titans with no intelligence but incredibly unpredictable.
"That's the one who ate Thomas." Armin muttered nervously, watching as it lumbered closer. The boy nervously shifted his gaze back to Rogue, knowing that if he were overpowered he would be done for. However, the fifteen-meter was incredibly alert, glaring at the abnormal with a practiced eye and glancing to the others around him before returning to the new arrival. Rogue then dipped his head, eyes narrowing and forming into slits and giving off a menacing reflection. It was then very clear.
The intelligent titan had a plan of execution.
Suddenly, Rogue released another long roar and pushed his way through the cluster of titans, smashing a five and four meter in his trembling wake. The cadets watched, eyes wide as the berserk creature raced for the abnormal – amazed that the still healing organism kept on going. Rogue then lunged, sinking his teeth into the blonde titan's nape, making the monster go limp in his grasp. A rippling growl pronounced through the fifteen-meter's throat as his jaws clamped further and squeezed the life out of the abnormal.
But Rogue wasn't done yet.
To the cadets' amazement, the titan quickly lifted the creature's entire weight over his head, neck muscles bulging and bracing as he stood surveying the positions of the nearby behemoths. With a muffled roar, Rogue flung the blonde titan to the ground, crushing four of the others in an explosion of crimson and gore. While the abnormal was still in his grip, though barely together, Rogue swung the titan's body into his last remaining foe – the blond titan's frame severing from its head with force and hurling the two massive forms into a residential building. Armin gulped, Adam's apples bobbing as the fifteen-meter dejectedly dropped the blonde's head before tilting back his own to release a howl to proclaim that he was the soul victor.
However, before Armin and Mikasa could breath a sigh in relief, Rogue collapsed to his knees, shattering his kneecaps before falling face first into the stone walk.
"No!" Mikasa squeaked. "He can't leave us!" She quietly panicked, preparing to make a run for the downed titan before the blue-eyed teen grasped her shoulder.
"Wait, Mikasa. He's still healing." Armin whispered, observing as Rogue let out a rather pitiful whine in sharp contrast to his previous angry bellow as he struggled to push himself back up with his partially healed arms. The titan whined again in frustration with each attempt, looking completely helpless with his nape entirely exposed.
"Titans are titans. We should kill the thing before it turns on us." Jean began, getting several looks of confusion from their comrades – including a deathly glare from Mikasa that was ever telling.
"Are you kidding, Jean? He's far more effective than any cannon or blade!" Connie disagreed, the long faced male giving into a look of surprise and disgust.
"Oh come on! It's not like he's a new friend!" He replied as Rogue was finally able to get to his knees, arms completely healed but missing his hands.
Thinking quickly, Armin discreetly guided Mikasa behind another spire to observe Rogue just as the titan turned his head. The creature's green eyes peeked from his messy locks to the group of cadets; hues burning a bit softer as glances were exchanged. For several seconds, it was nothing but intense taciturnity. The soldiers' bodies trembled as Rogue remained deathly still; stare growing more solid as his eyes shifted slightly to each teen. Armin watched as the tips of the titan's fingers completed, making the creature whole again. To his amazement, Rogue lifted a hand to place over his nape, another feat that Armin had never witnessed from his dear friend, as his beastly greens remained hooked to the teens. The boy raised a brow in question. It was obvious by the titan's scowl that Rogue was trying to get his point across that he wasn't to be touched, but the slight movement in his eyes as he glanced to each cadet made it also clear that Rogue was indeed looking for them as he studied every facial feature before him. Relief swept over the boy again. Rogue had not gone mad, more temperamental perhaps, but thankfully not insane.
"Armin," Mikasa began, realizing the very same. "He's searching for us."
He nodded. "Yeah, but remember, no matter how much we want to reunite with him, we have to keep hidden until I figure out how this is going to play out."
Rogue then stood upright, still cradling his weak spot in an almost tender embrace as he towered over the cadets, emerald eyes still shining down at them in what Armin could determine was a silent thanks. The titan's ear then characteristically flickered before motioning in the direction of the wall. The creature paying no mind to some of the cadets that fell to their knees in relief from the intense stand off. Rogue's two companions watched as the titan easily put a distance between them with his long strides. Armin blinked, watching as his vast friend made no move to kill a ten- meter just a few rooftops from where the creature was. Why wasn't Rogue going after it?
"Why is The Rogue not bothering to go after that titan?" Sasha wondered, easily gathering the other cadets' attention much to the two teens' dismay. "He's just – walking away."
"Is he tired?"
"Do you think he's leaving the wall since he's apparently finished?"
"The hell is that thing doing?"
Armin and Mikasa remained unspoken as the young soldiers continued to speculate amongst one another. Knowing that the group was distracted, the two readied their gear to follow Rogue, even after knowing the titan for years – they were clueless as to what he was doing.
"How about we follow The Rogue?" Marco suddenly suggested. "He's intelligent, so he has to be up to something."
"You're right. He must be." Krista replied. "I'm sure he wouldn't mind too much if he's made no move to kill us."
With their words, the group of cadets launched themselves from the terra cotta rooftop and after the fifteen-meter. Seeing their decision, Mikasa and Armin quickly trailed their advance. As they flew, Armin continued to note how their friend simply passed by his kind, and when Rogue seemed to make the utmost effort to circle from a titan's path, it was clear to the calculating male that the green-eyed beast was purposely avoiding his kind. The sight sent Armin into puzzling confusion. Rogue was completely rabid before, just minutes ago stopping at nothing to erase his opponents from the world. So why was he stopping now? Was it true that he knew he was too exhausted to carry on and was heading outside the wall for safety? If humanity had another day, would he return to look for them?
Armin put his thoughts away as the team rounded a corer to see another plausible sight. Rogue was standing still, eyes transfixed on a massive boulder that was much larger than the titan himself. Taking refuge behind the crest of a roof, the teens observed as Rogue tilted his head and slowly began to orbit around the boulder, letting out several grunts and grumbles as he adjusted himself to examine ever angle of it.
"Yes idiot." Jean grumbled. "It's a fucking rock." The boy insulted, receiving another deadly glare from Mikasa.
"Why is he so interested in that boulder?" Armin questioned, not realizing that he was speaking aloud as he watched Rogue run his hands over the rough extremity in intrigue. He was used to seeing the titan interested in new things like leather balls, books, and plush animals – but why the sudden interest in an object that he was very aware of? It didn't make any sense. What was so special about that rock?
"What do you think he's doing?"
"Why is he touching it like that?"
"Is this a way that titans leave their scent on something?"
"I'm just saying. It's a possibility."
Again, the group of teens began to talk amongst themselves, throwing out outlandish ideas that would have normally brought forth a laugh from Armin. However, both the small blonde and Mikasa were far too transfixed on the bizarre scene before them.
What happened next, no soul could have predicted.
Rogue crouched down to the boulder's base, and with a determined roar, began to lift the massive rock from the earth. Gasps ran through the titan's audience as Rogue positioned the boulder onto his shoulders, hot steam erupting from his frame as he braced his palms against the rough surface. With his neck painfully arched and pressing into his burly shoulder, Rogue took a step forward – the entirety of Trost seemingly vibrating beneath his feet. Armin watched in awe, rooftops rattling and other solders stopping to watch in utter amazement as the titan carried on – muscles bulging and becoming much more pronounced than before, displaying both great strain and strength. It was nothing short of incredible. He could have never imagined that Rogue could lift such weight – let alone come into the fray in the first place.
Or that he was indeed The Rogue Titan of legend, the titan that hunts his own and bathes in their blood.
His blue eyes then followed the direction the towering beast was heading, coming to a conclusion that made his eyes grow wide in shock for the umpteenth time that day.
Rogue was heading for the breach, determined to seal the hole.
With titans still residing in the general region, it was clear what they had to do. They had to fight. They had to protect.
Every fiber in his body screamed and wailed in agony, begging to be put out of their misery. Steam shrouded him in a hot veil while every part of him begged to stop. He felt as if his entire body was to buckle beneath the weight – something that admittedly surprised him even though it should not have. He was so tired, but he had to keep soldiering on. As much as he wanted to stop for a breather, Rogue restricted himself from such a pleasure. He had to save the humans. He had to save his little ones. Instead, he just concentrated on forcing one foot in front of the other.
Smoldering steam poured from his teeth and jetted from his nose. The earth rippled beneath his feet, each step forming craters in the organized stone. His muscles bulged the most they had ever had, nearly breaking lose from his tough skin. Slowly, Rogue's eyelids opened, peering through his thin and translucent membranes. Before him was a sight that nearly made him stop in his tracks and drop the boulder in bewilderment. All around him, the uniformed men were engaged in heated combat with his kin. His glowing eyes blew wider as he observed their attempts in their own assault. Their blades sliced the napes of his kind, making them fall one by one as nothing but useless hunks of meat. However, there was the great spill of human crimson. Before a titan would fall, several of the males and females lost their lives. Bodies were bitten in half, torn limb from limb, swallowed whole or even decapitated without a thought.
The great strain began to make Rogue's vision blur, little black dots flashing before his eyes as he was on the verge of collapse. The great titan blinked, resisting shaking his head to and fro for the risk that he could drop the boulder. Rogue's gaze then shot downward, seeing two barely clear humans running on the ground before him – their colors blurring together like mixed paint. Why were these humans on the ground? Did they know they could get killed? Eaten or stepped on?
Unable to keep his gaze to the earth, the titan directed his attention before him again, trying to resist the strong smell of hot ash, his foul kin, and the sweet scent of sugary blood. As he propelled himself further to the breach, seeing the uniformed men soar and fly at his enemies, it then became very clear what they were doing. They were protecting him. Attacking for him. They were making sure that he was to reach his goal.
They were on his side.
Rogue's stomach fluttered in pride as he took another massive step. Had the humans finally accepted him and his entirety? It sure appeared so. Their aid – it was such a blessing. They were longing for survival in the cruel world. Like him, they wanted a victory. Damn, they were so alike, yet so very different.
The titan's eyes narrowed, glowing bright in determination. He would. He would bring them a bit of reassurance. He would make them happy.
'FIGHT!' Rogue's mind screamed as he turned toward the gate. The word – it was so meaningful. In order to win, he would have to lay it all on the line. They couldn't win if he did not fight.
It did not matter how cruel the world was. Everyone was born free. To hell with the ones that tried to take that away! To hell with them!
He was going to be free once again. Water that stretched beyond the horizon, red earth, mountains of ice – the whole bit! Once he, his little ones, and the humans laid their eyes on that, they would have freedom. But first, he had to fight.
Rogue took another step, muscles on the verge of ripping to shreds as he became mere meters from the breach.
The titan motioned further, listening to the cries of encouragement from the unformed men as he continued on.
Their words were enough to send him over.
With an earth-shattering roar, Rogue lifted the boulder from his shoulders and plunged it into the breach, sealing the wall so tightly that not even sunlight shone through the crevices. Finally, the titan collapsed against the rock, chest heaving strongly as he let his physique relax and cool. Slowly, his body, most likely cursed with cracked bones and internal bleeding, began to mend. Rogue's brow relaxed as his head tilted back in liberation and allowed a small proud smile to grace his face. He had done it. Against the odds, he had done it. The thought nearly making him purr in delight.
Then, a new thought suddenly hit him, one that made his smile instantly fade.
Gradually, Rogue turned to peer at the uniformed men from the corner of his eye, seeing that they were now silent and still with their own eyes glued to him. He watched as many of the men exchanged quiet human tongue with one other while glaring at him in what he was able to discern as worry. The titan's eyes danced from one individual to another, also spotting the familiar flying humans that he had come to know, all of the uniformed men staring at him with utter seriousness.
It was then that Rogue realized that he had made a crucial mistake. His body shook as he braced himself against the rock, looking up at the wall in fear. He did not thoroughly think his seemingly brilliant plan through, missing the grave error. The titan had sealed himself on the wrong side of the wall where the uniformed men were, away from the safety of his cove and territory. For the second time since the sun had risen, Rogue was completely an undeniable terrified.
"So, what do we do with him?"
"Should we neutralize him?"
"What if The Rogue attacks us now that he's here!"
"My god, what do we do!"
The titan blinked, turning to face the uniformed men with a hand placed protectively on his nape in instinct. His eyes then stared off at the human hive where his little ones were. He couldn't. Judging by the tones of the men, they were too frightened, he would have to wait. Rogue moaned miserably, feeling utterly stupid that he believed that he could see his little ones and take them back home. If these men saw him with the two children they would not hesitate to kill him. Life had a cruel sense of humor.
Rogue trembled further, whining like a frightened puppy. He had to get away! He couldn't die! He had to be safe so he could see his little ones again! Suddenly, several of the uniformed men nodded to one another and slowly approached the weary titan, digits on the hilt of their blades. Instinctively, Rogue scooted away on his rump, crying loudly as his mind was in full panic.
"Don't give us too much trouble big guy."
"Please, don't get any crazy ideas."
"Come on now, keep calm."
"Don't you dare, titan."
Finally, Rogue's mind snapped. Despite the fact that he was still recovering, the creature abruptly stood and bolted, whimpering as he charged into the human structures without a single plan. The titan moaned loudly, running among the abandoned streets as he heard the sound of the things that he uniformed men possessed around their waist, the beast showing a much more venerable side that had never been seen by the eyes of the military before.
Without warning, the small man from the flying humans landed on a rooftop before him, scowl still fixed and revealing no other hint of expression. Rogue skidded to a halt, pupils wide in terror.
"Alright big brat. Quit your fucking crying and settle –
The titan did not dare to stay and listen to the man complete his sentence. Rogue turned in the opposite direction and carried himself as quickly as he could. Again, more uniformed men landed before the titan and attempted to speak, but Rogue wasted no time. Screeching and screaming now, the titan barreled forward through several structures, debris clouding the air in dust. Suddenly, Rogue's feet crossed one another and he fell to the earth, sending another shroud of dust that settled into the air like a heavy fog. As efficiently as he could, Rogue got his footing and set his sights to the wall.
He would have to. There were no other available options. The only way out was up. Rogue withered as the scenes from his nightmares played out before his eyes, the continuous tries and fails. The titan's brows then narrowed. No. He had practiced and practiced. Tired or not, he was going to try. He was going to fight.
Soldiers screamed in protest as Rogue made a beeline for the breach. With a powerful kick, the titan launched himself atop the boulder and leaped as high as his lightened weight would allow him. Like the great trees in his forest, Rogue sunk his nails and fingers deep into the surface of the wall. With great strain, the titan threw his other hand forward to do the same. The creature ignored the angry declarations and desperate pleas in the distance as he repeated his actions. Rogue winced as his exhausted muscles began to tear once again, but he gritted his teeth to ignore the unpleasant burning in his joints. With each meter he scaled, his heart ached even more, knowing that with every movement he made, the further he was retreating from his little ones. The fact that he had smelt them and was near them was even more painful that his protesting body.
The titan's fingers then curled over the edge of the wall. With his heart thundering like the stormy bellows from the heavens, Rogue quickly hauled himself over the top of the wall. For a moment, he remained perched atop the massive barrier, looking down in both disbelief and relief, barely paying no mind that he had conquered one of his biggest fears. Below, the uniformed men were shouting at him and at one another in harsh human tongue as they scattered like ants.
"Halt! Don't you move!"
Hearing the call, Rogue turned to see seven uniformed men charging for him, hands over their blades and palms outstretched. Rattled, the titan turned and looked over the wall's edge into Maria. Without wasting another second, Rogue ventured over the edge of the wall, sliding down the ninety-degree slope. Skin peeled off in sheets from his body before he reached the bottom, his entire legs shattering beneath him upon impact. Rogue cried in agony as he waited for his marrow to mend, the men above watching the titan suffer in incredible shock. Finally, after his limbs repaired, Rogue bounded off into the direction of his beloved cove – cursing himself for his ignorance at everything.
Levi remained still in his stance, watching the soldiers around him. Every single soul was in a state of sheer astonishment. They barely spoke to one another as their eyes traveled from the boulder to the top of the wall where the titan had vanished. Admittedly, he himself was in a similar state of mind. For the first time in history, humanity had won, and ironically it was from the aid of an unlikely ally – a monster that humans considered their greatest enemy. A titan of all creatures had come up with an execution to seal the hole in the wall, saving a territory that would have been lost. Not only that, but the beast had managed to scale a full fifty meters to escape over Wall Rose. It was nothing short of incredible.
The short man then turned to see Erwin approaching him with a more than serious look, eyes narrowed in determination and stride sturdy and strong. Levi saluted.
"Commander, what do we do now? Where do we go from here?"
The tall man stalled his reply, looking up at the peak of the wall and the sun settling behind it. Erwin then returned his gaze back to the Corporal, eyes ignited with strong purpose.
"We prepare our case for Zackley. We are capturing The Rogue Titan."