To Catch A Fox
Levi remained quiet, eyes facing forward in an almost blank and disinterested stare, keeping to his thoughts within the room filled with upscale people – those he considered idiots among the human population. He was already tired and annoyed; the trip to the capital had been a lengthy one, even more so than those in the past. The stout man had the newspapers to thank for that. Since the incident at Trost, the press had become fully submerged in the only story that seemed to matter from the event – how The Rogue Titan had 'come to their rescue'. The papers, now circulating all across Rose and Sina, documented the event to the full extent from every aspect and even included sketches of the beast created from observations made by soldiers. Due to the release, when passing through a town, the locals instantly approached the Scouts with queries such as: 'Is there really a titan on the team?' or 'Does it really not eat humans?' among other annoying requests. Of course, everyone was answered with the simple statement that everything within the ink was true, but the Scouts kept most of the information secret. Ever since their missions to observe the titan in his natural habitat, Erwin had only shared what intelligence they gathered with Pixis as they had previously declared. Everyone else was kept perfectly in the dark. Today however, they would have to reveal it. After three days of crucial paperwork and processing, they were ready. Finally, the trial on the fate of The Rogue Titan had arrived.
Levi shifted his weight again, resting most of it on one of his legs with his arms folded over one another in disapproval. God how he hated being anywhere near the courthouse, let alone in it. The large room before him was what he could call a breeding ground for political opinion. It was an open space with marbled floors and vaulted ceilings with generic wallpaper, a luxury that was common in Sina. Everything seemed to be in dull shades of navy and grey while the room had an aroma of order – not the kind of cleanliness and sterilization that Levi preferred. Some would say that the mood fit his own, but he despised the place in all honesty. The attendants in the giant room consisted of wealthy aristocrats, merchants, Wall Cultists, and worst of all the Military Police. Of course, there were also groups of civilians – most being from Trost and even a small number of former residents of Wall Maria. The Corporal's trained eyes scanned the faces in the room to size up their odds of winning. Levi's icy hues then stopped on the features of a man in the MP's. Automatically his brow creased in aggravation. The tall and scrawny man was none other than Commander Nile Dock – the Military Police's commanding officer. From previous encounters with the man, Levi knew him to be arrogant and standoffish - unreasonable as well. Nile had a thin face with black hair fixed messily upon a shaved head. The taller man's eyes were like his own, just as unkind and unamused – but they served as a disguise over his flappable core. The man would run the first chance he got when faced with real danger. Levi's scowl grew even deeper as he recognized the man next to Nile. It was Pastor Nick, head priest of the Wall Cultists – a religious organization that worshiped the walls as some sort of god or deity. Like most, Levi couldn't stand them for the group could be considered as insane and he felt that he couldn't trust them like the many he once knew in the underground. This was just great. How were the Scouts supposed to win their case, obtain The Rogue Titan and enlist him as a member of their legion where he would be put to good use?
Levi trusted Erwin. Their carefully organized plan had to work. They could not fail or their beacon of hope would be exterminated. They had to expose the terrifying and legendary Rogue Titan as he was in his entirety – a creature that no one needed to fear. They had to sugar coat everything.
Suddenly, an echoing and cavernous creaking of an opening wooden door filled the spacious room, silencing all its occupants. Every soul stood from their seats to devote their full attention to the gentleman entering the court. The man was certainly a decorated and respected one – none other than Premier Zackley, head of the three military branches. Levi knew him to be a serious man, wisdom reflecting from the perfectly groomed white hair and beard with his face framed by glasses. Of course, having great experience with reading people, Levi sensed that beneath the medals, badges, and ribbons of the man's coat that there was a sense of understanding – perhaps specks of lunacy if one dove deep enough. Zackley then made his way to his seat at the high podium that overlooked the entire interior of the room. The Premier then sat down, casually rolling up his sleeves before nonchalantly spreading out the paperwork of the case before him. For a moment, the man's eyes scrutinized the words closely before adverting his gaze from the pieces of parchment.
Zackley then breathed a sigh, one that sounded as if it was one in preparation for a long and difficult trial – which could very well be the circumstance with the strange titan. "Alright. Shall we begin?" The man spoke, seating the others without a direct command. "This court in now in session. Now, if you all please, due to the nature of this case, reframe from arguing with one another and save it for an appropriate venue." Zackley addressed the room's population before glancing back at his notes. "We are here today to determine the fate of The Rogue Titan. In light of the recent events at Trost – this falls under my jurisdiction. I will decide whether this bizarre specimen lives or dies." The Premier paused, Levi witnessing the man's words sink in through the others' skin. "According to the paper as well as Garrison and witness accounts, The Rogue appeared in Trost at the height of the titan assault. From my sources, it is said that this titan hunted its own kind within the city before plugging up the gate of Wall Rose. The Rogue then fled over the wall before vanishing into the abandoned Territory of Maria." Zackley hesitated for a second time, taking the moment to adjust his glasses before turning his attentiveness towards the smug MP's.
Levi felt his fists tighten, preparing is own words and facts if need be for when the moment would come. With Nile, he was bound to grow even more irritated.
The Premier exhaled. "Commander Nile Dock, what is your proposal in this case?"
The Corporal's mouth pinched, growing thinner in annoyance as Nile lifted his sheet of notes to his view - as if the man would even need them when his answer of defiance was clearly going to be the latter. "I, Commander of the Military Police Brigade," The arrogant man spoke dramatically with no need to be. "Propose that this Rogue Titan be disposed of immediately! With the facts presented and the statements of the titan's possible intelligence, we have deemed the monster to be nothing more than a potential threat to humanity!"
Levi crossed his arms, still keeping his stern gaze to the dark haired Commander. 'Humph. As expected.'
Zackley dipped his head in acknowledgement. "I see. Is that your full proposal, Commander?"
"Yes, Sir!" Nile concluded, voice stern, booming, and to the point as per usual.
Again, the Premier ever so slightly nodded in response. The bearded man then glanced back to his papers before turning his gaze to Pixis who stood next to Erwin, face almost pulled into a relaxed but cunning look. Levi blinked. The eccentric head of the Garrison was always a wild card – but with the Scouts constantly passing information to the man, the Commander had to be on their side. "Pixis," Zackley initiated again as he rested his chin on his palm. "Is it absolutely fact and not fiction that the wall was sturdily sealed by this titan?"
The elderly man nodded, casually and confidently crossing his arms around his back. "Yes, and I doubt that it will ever be breached again."
"Good. Now Commander Pixis, does your regiment have a proposal in mind before I continue? Do you have any plans for the titan in question?"
At the query, the peculiar man let out a laugh that could have been dangerously close to a snort, the display of expected merriment echoing among the decorative walls. "My condolences Premier Zackley." Pixis apologized as he captured his stability. "I'm going to be quite frank with you. In truth our regiment cannot put such potential to use. The brute is too big to reside up at the top of the wall or man a cannon. Yes, not much use at all. However," Pixis paused, glancing to both Levi and Erwin with his golden eyes peeking from the corners of wrinkled flesh before clearing his throat. "I believe that the Scouts are fully capable of housing such a beast. With them, whom I have full confidence of, I believe that they can utilize the titan's full potential to humanity's advantage."
"Hmm, I see." Zackley acknowledged, seeming absorbing the words in careful contemplation with the speed of a sponge soaking up water. "Commander Erwin Smith, can you support Commander Pixis's statement? Is your proposal as such?"
The tall blonde's facial structure grew into one of hardened seriousness. Yes, Levi was very familiar with the man's particular expression. Indeed, it reflected confidence, but deep past the layers of skin, muscle, and bone Erwin was carefully calculating the circumstances. "Yes, Sir. Our proposal is exactly that. We will capture this titan in his domain and bring him to Survey Corps headquarters. There, he will be tamed and domesticated and with success be instated as a full unofficial member of the Scouts." The Commander informed promptly without delay. "That is all."
Zackley's fingers combed through his beard, eyes questioning and attempting to grip the concept through a large series of murmurs and whispers ever since Erwin had finished his speech. To their misfortune, Pastor Nick stepped forward, hands slamming against the railing before him in resentment.
"No! Such an ideal poisons the Goddesses of the Walls themselves! It is sin! That monster, that demon, is a blight upon this secure world that must be expunged! To think of bringing such a hell into our heaven is a wish for death! You! You will be punished like that vile creature and just as severely! The Goddesses will have no mercy upon you!"
Levi let out a sigh at the crazed man's insistent interruption, watching as another individual close by began to argue with the Priest of the Wallists. It was truly annoying, but why was Nick even in the very courtroom? The man and his followers should not have even been allowed in. Religious views were not permitted in court. In Levi's eyes, they were nothing more than untrustworthy people looking to start a riot. They had no part in any of this.
Finally, the Premier rolled his eyes in annoyance and called for order with several hits to the oak podium before him. "I said that there would be no arguments in this court of law! Save your words for another time! Any more outbursts and you will be escorted out!" Zackley stated, cheeks tinting slightly red as he delivered his direction. Thankfully, the two men quieted down but still silently pouted. Levi could practically feel the animosity discharging from the two. The Premier then sighed, but then his face wrinkled ever so slightly in question and curiosity. The man then blinked and turned to Erwin once again, a brow raised in suspicion. "Commander Erwin Smith, you seem very confident in your proposal. Might I ask… why? Was Trost the first time you encountered the titan? Or not?"
The corporal nearly flinched at the Premier's question. Steel irises flickered to Erwin, observing how the experienced man's throat bobbed slightly – keeping a coil of nerves at bay. Truthfully, he didn't know how Zackley was going to react to the withheld information – a major felony against the government. This would either save the case or compromise it.
"Premier Zackley, four years ago on a mission to investigate a few raids upon the safe houses that our regiment has placed throughout the region of Wall Maria, Section Commanders Hange Zoe and Mike Zukarious encountered something that we Scouts had never witnessed before. Upon their mission, they were ambushed in a field by at least a dozen titans. Of course, three-dimensional gear isn't the most practical thing in that environment. Thus, they were far outmatched. However, a fifteen meter titan stormed into the facility and skillfully slaughtered his own. After he made his kills, the titan simply looked at the two squads before vanishing into the forest."
Levi's brows furrowed, even after all this talk of this information being revealed to the public, he still couldn't believe that they were exposing something so delicate. But they had to sway the skittish public and not to mention the judge himself.
"Upon returning to headquarters, it was then realized that this titan, one that we are currently considering a new breed, was indeed The Rogue Titan from the Garrison's observations at the first breach – something that was once believed to be a myth. With the titan's appearance and deed, we became curious. And so the Scouts made it a priority to study the specimen as a part of our titan research program. What we experienced and found – was incredible."
Zackley's brows arched again before his forehead furrowed, realizing what the Scouts had brushed under the rug. "Erwin Smith. Did you act on your own accord with the study of the Rogue Titan?" The man spoke calmly, voice still laden with utter seriousness.
Erwin did not hesitate. "Yes. It was for the good of humanity. With the vast potential residing with our subject, we had to keep this labeled as a classified matter. At the time, man was not ready to accept the fact that there is a possibility of an ironic form of hope."
"That's treason!" Nile shouted from across the room, becoming animated once anew. "Withholding information from the rest of the military and the government is punishable to the furthest extent!"
The Premier abruptly turned to the arrogant MP, eyes narrowed in distaste. Was it possible that Zackley was willing to overlook the fact and listen? "Commander Nile Dock, I did express that there would be no outbursts in this court of law. I am fully aware that what the Scouts have executed is a felony. However, the study of all types of titans is permitted within their approved program of titan research. Crime aside, I am willing to listen to their discoveries. Besides, they are more than willing it seems to share what they know now." The man informed with Nile's muscles falling in bewilderment and lips twitching in aggravation. "Now Erwin, please enlighten me and this court on your discoveries."
Levi observed as most of the spectators of the room edged forward in their seats, ears and eyes fixed upon the tall blonde as he cleared his throat. "Thank you. The best person to relay this information to you is the head of our research department, Section Commander Hange Zoe. Permission to summon her to the stand, Premier Zackley."
The man dithered, resigning his chin to his palm yet again. "Granted. Will Miss Zoe approach?"
The Corporal nearly let himself curse beneath his breath. He wasn't too fond of Shitty Glasses testifying, but at least her constant jabbering would prevent any questions from arising from the crowd. A few annoyed grunts could be heard as Hange pushed her way through the soldiers, nearly squealing in excitement as usual. Levi's face naturally formed into an even deeper scowl. Hopefully Hange would not foolishly give way to error.
The scientist then took her position at a podium placed in the center of the courtroom just below the Premier. Hange then took the time to eagerly gather her notes before opening her lips to make her address. "Premier Zackley, on behalf of myself and the Scouts, I thank you for the opportunity. Now," Hange pressed on with her mood suddenly just as serious as Commander Erwin himself. "Questions from the public have surfaced in light of the recent publications about The Rogue Titan. You may have heard these speculations yourself on your way to this very hearing. Does the titan eat humans? Does the titan really have no interest in harming us? Does The Rogue really have a horrifying physique? Muscular and powerful body? Big exposed teeth? Pointy elf like ears that move to every sound? A roar that shakes the earth? Eyes like feral emeralds? Is this titan really intelligent? Supported by the facts that my team and I have put together, I can wholeheartedly say that all of those questions, besides the query of the Rogue eating humans, can be answered yes. Every bit is true and I'm here to support my resolutions with facts and inform you of this titan's true unseen nature."
Her statement sent a wave of murmurs throughout the room.
"So it doesn't eat people?"
"It – doesn't want to harm us?"
"It really is intelligent?"
The barrage of whispers was then silenced by the cold look of Zackley. Once all was just again, the Premier motioned for Hange to continue with a wave of his hand.
"Thank you. Now, where was I? Ah yes. After our first initial encounter with The Rogue, as Erwin stated, we returned to Maria with constant study in mind. As a specimen, The Rogue is unlike any other titan I have observed before. He is far from abnormal – a deviant type indeed. Nearly everything about this titan is something utterly special. I shall begin on the topic of his intelligence. Extensive surveillance on The Rogue revealed that the intelligence level of this titan is indeed human like."
Premier Zackley leaned forward in incredible attentiveness at the shared fact, hand sliding further over his chin to hide the lower portion of his face. Of course, to Levi's dismay, several more voices sputtered in the back of the room at the presented information.
"Could it be smarter than us?"
"Is The Rogue… could it be tricking us?"
"Incredible. Perhaps humanity is saved!"
Once more, the Premier plunged the room into silence with a hit to the great oak podium. "Please be silent! Now Hange Zoe, could you please continue?"
Levi nearly smirked at the man's interest, but his desired gesture never broke free. How would Zackley react to the fact that titan was a bit of a dork with an adolescent's state of mind?
"Yes," Hange proceeded. "The Rogue has human intelligence, but most certainly not to our level. Our experiments, observations, and discoveries have led us to the conclusion that the titan only has the level of intellect of a child. Five to seven years old at the most." He woman paused, hesitating through more hushed voices before continuing. "We were able to determine this by performing a series of tests and connecting a few dots. I'm sure that all of you who have children in this room can relate to this very well. Curiosity is a natural thing in a young one's mind. Kids like to look and touch everything. The Rogue Titan, although he is probably as old as you and me if not older, is blossoming with child like intrigue. During our first experiment with our specimen, we presented him with a few objects to find. Within a few hours, The Rogue Titan appeared and took a great interest in an unused iron bamboo blade and old mattress – in which he ripped out the cotton stuffing and started to actually play with it, even producing sounds of obvious pleasure. Now, if you can remember the mentioning of our mission to explore the cause of the depot raids, we originally thought the culprits were animals. However, sometimes child like curiosity can be quite a folly. After catching the titan stealing cables from one of our storehouses red handed, two and two was put together. The Rogue Titan has always been incredibly interested in our strange belongings and us. When he's either bored or itching to get into mischief, he sneakily breaks into our depots and goes through everything – especially pillows and mattresses." Hange paused getting a breather and a slight drink of water.
Levi sighed. This was going to take a while.
"Of course, his curiosity with us doesn't stop there. Oh no! The Rogue Titan even infiltrated our camp one night when the majority of us were asleep! He scrutinized our horses, our food and small supplies, our trapping tools, and even climbed a nearly forty meter tree to look at a soldier asleep in a hammock – poking it in weary interest before observing said soldier's maneuver gear. This instance not only showed that The Rogue has no interest in our consumption, but basic problem solving skills. This is evident with the titan's act of sealing up Trost's gate to forbid any other titans from entering. Because of his intellect, we know he has the ability to adapt and even ascertain. Like I've stated, he's very interested in observing us. The Rogue Titan learns by seeing and discerning the behavior and actions of others. He knows to cover his weak spot around humans because of us – this piece of behavior was also seen in Trost when the titan came in contact with Garrison soldiers and Cadets." Hange paused yet again to savor her breath and sooth her pipes. "In fact, The Rogue is certainly a specimen that is very eager to learn. As with the night in the camp, the titan would usually follow us around once he found us. Although we remain in the trees, that of which he certainly can climb, The Rogue remains close to watch and listen. Sometimes he's so comfortable around us that he will sit at the base of a tree and relax."
"So he never has shown any aggression towards the Scouts?" Zackley questioned, fingers toying with his beard.
Hange nodded. "He never has." The scientist informed. "He never does because he is aware that we can kill him. There has only been one instance when the titan expressed a small and non threatening hiss to be left alone before walking off – just like a cat that doesn't want to be approached. Of course, this now leads into his animalistic and other characteristics that may be native to his particular genetic makeup. Compared to other titans, this one displays more animal like quirks in addition to human like ones. Most of which seem to be feline and canine like. Some of these include the fact the Rogue has been observed in the act of scent marking his own territory – done by stripping bark and rubbing either his shoulder or the side of his face over the exposed wood. Others include the fact that he has tapetum lucidum, which could be described as night vision. The Rogue Titan's ears are incredibly acute to sound and move together or independently to pick up any trace of noise in addition to moving according to his current mood. His stamina is far better than a common titan's. He hunts in a very similar way to most predators, stalking his prey before skillfully bringing it down. The Rogue is the perfect tracker. The perfect hunter. Every aspect about his form leads to the fact that he is an advanced species of apex titan."
Zackley continued with his pondering and jesting with the individual strands of his beard. "Miss Zoe. Your information is very revealing. I have a few questions about some of the points you raised before you continue further. Most of these tie to recent events. The Rogue Titan seems to be very used to your company and you even suggest that he can possibly be friendly even. However, there are reports from Trost that state that when the titan sealed himself inside the wall where many soldiers surrounded him, The Rogue responded in a way that could be described as a panicked reaction. Why do you think that is?"
Levi's brow naturally raised slightly in thought. Zackley was a smart man and most likely knew the answer. Was it possible that the man believed their words and wanted Hange to deal more positive info to sway the public in favor of the case?
"Ah yes. I once talked with Corporal Levi about this when the titan pulled a similar stunt with the storehouse raids. Like any child or animal that has been backed into a corner, one that values their life and isn't looking for trouble, they grow fearful and try to get away. At that point in Trost, the titan was faced with an unfamiliar situation and felt threatened. Not willing to be killed or harmed, although incredibly and unbelievably frightened beyond his own understanding, The Rogue howled and whimpered as he struggled to navigate away from us before successfully climbing the wall."
"Hmm, I see. Now there have also been reports that the titan knew some of the basics to hand to hand combat. I'm aware that the Scouts don't really use this often in the field let alone in titan territory. How do you think that The Rogue knew these moves, do you think it's something that he learned by observation from you?"
For a long moment, Hange dithered in her own cone of silence. Her hand then reached up to brush back a strand of oily hair before taking a deep breath. Levi shifted his weight again. What the scientist was about to speak of was possibly the hardest to dish out. In fact, ever since uncovering the possibility, the Scouts were not entirely sure of its authenticity.
"Your query is actually something that I was going to discuss in my final topic. Keep in mind that this is still under current investigation, but we have reason to believe that The Rogue Titan maybe able to actually understand human images and words. Again, this is currently a theory that we've been debating and are still studying. As for your question on the titan's knowledge of combat, we think that either he watched a few soldiers spar in their spare time or this next idea. A book referencing fighting techniques was one of the items taken from a depot. Although we doubt that he has the capability to read, we have gone far enough to say that he could have taken the book and studied the pictures on the pages. But that is a stretch so we believe more in the first idea. As far as words, the first hint that this was possible was when The Rogue was caught stealing. When the word 'cables' was mentioned, the titan immediately looked to the object in hand. There were instances in Trost as well that were eerily similar. Then again, those could have just been gut reactions. Still, with the fact that the titan is intelligent – this is a strong possibility." Hange pressed on, taking her time to explain things even slower than before. "Sir, with all of the facts that I've presented, I believe that the Scout Regiment is fully capable of being able to tame this beast and give him orders with no threat attached." Hange smiled broadly, hoping that the Premier was satisfied.
Zackley's brow wrinkled slightly in deep thought. To Levi's surprise, Pixis cleared his throat.
"Before we continue, I wanted to speak in support on the behalf of the Garrison. We too, have witnessed the titan's interest and non-threatening display towards our soldiers. Once a month the titan comes to take care of the titans surrounding the wall and sits down at the base of the wall to watch us. At first, he remained in his spot for two weeks straight. Then he came around for at least one or two days a month for the past few years. He's never showed any aggression towards us. Even though it's now apparent that he can climb the walls, he never once did so to get closer to us. In fact Erwin and I have been in constant communication over this titan since it's resurface from the first breach. I am very confident that they will succeed with their task."
The bearded man shifted in his seat. "So you have had knowledge of this titan as well, correct?"
Without hesitation, Pixis nodded. "Yes. I am well prepared to take the fall for choosing not to speak of any of this until we had a better understanding of our titan subject. The Scouts and I felt the same about this. I'm sure you can understand why."
The Corporal could barely believe what he was hearing. Pixis was certainly sticking his neck out on the chopping block for such a risky case. The fact that he was willing to fall for such a cause was incredible. Zackley then nodded.
"I see. However since Erwin did share with you the information, as you are the highest raking Commander in the Southern territories, I understand the reasoning behind your decision. Not only that, but since the Scouts feel that they have accumulated more evidence and were willing to share it with us today, for that I will drop the charges of treason." Zackley ruled, nearly bringing fourth another outburst from Nile – the look on the MP's face nearly making Levi huff in amusement. "Now Hange Zoe, one more question that you haven't seemed to shed any light on. Why is it that this titan is only going after his own kind? Is this a characteristic mutation in the genes of this creature or is it some other behavior?"
Again, the scientist shifted nervously in her stance. The question was another one that the Scouts could not figure out as of yet. "This is another thing that's in the dark for us. We defiantly do not believe that this is a forced trait intertwined in his system like the actions of an abnormal titan that just does things with no reason, thought, or explanation. The Rogue does this because he wants to. Not because he has to. He is skillful and doesn't hunt recklessly. He does things with purpose. His body features and build are perfectly suited for what he does. But of course, we haven't pinpointed whether this is innate to his breed or some experience has triggered such violent resentment for his own kind. We may never know until we are able to conduct further study on The Rogue."
The Premier finally nodded and leaned back in his seat. "Thank you Section Commander, you may now be seated." Zackley addressed before returning to Erwin. "Commander, how do you plan to capture such a beast if the approval is given? The Rogue is clearly smarter and bigger than your previous captures. Tell me, what do you plan to do? Would you be going with a different or traditional approach?"
The tall blonde opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by a clamor from the crowd. A chubby man whom Levi assumed was a merchant, stood in objection. "This is ridiculous!" He stated, voice booming up into the rafters. "They still don't know everything yet they insist on capturing this monster! That's tax dollars going to waste! The Scouts can't even guarantee that they can get this done! What if this is all just an act to suck up every bit of our money to make up for their own failures or to suit their off duty desires!"
"Shut up you spineless dog!" Another man shouted. "With a titan on our side we could return to reclaim Wall Maria!"
"Quiet!" Zackley addressed, his voice coated in poison. "I will now hear Commander Erwin Smith's plan is for execution of this task."
Erwin dipped his head in thanks. "We plan to do this in a traditional yet professional and humane manner. Knowing the titan's strengths and weaknesses we have developed new kinds of tools that we will implement on missions to capture The Rogue. The titan's nature and curiosity will be taken into great account in this matter. In this circumstance, our friend's inquisitiveness could ultimately be what gets himself caught."
To the Scout's unfortunate disarray, Nile lifted himself to the rails again. "How? How can you be so sure that this titan, who you people think is possibly like your own personal attack dog, will remain the same once you make your advance? Like you said, he is weary of humans. He could very well lash out in defense when he is attacked with weapons! Especially to a group of people that he has grown used to. If he's as smart as you say, then perhaps the monster will realize you set him up. Hell, you could make him distrust humans entirely if he really does have no qualms against us."
For the first time during the trial, Levi swallowed nervously. Nile's point could stop them in their tracks and throw them onto the losing side of the case it was so damning. The Corporal had been dreading such a moment. He had a hunch that Nile was going to try something. With those harsh words, he feared that the Scouts might have lost their leg in the race.
"For all we know the titan could very well still be able to consume a human. During further investigation, the Military Police came across a missing person's report. Three men vanished into the forests of Wall Maria two years before the first breach without any trace! Who's to say that the titan is the reason for this?" Nile pointed out, causing a wave of reconsideration to flow down the Scout's opposing side. Levi then straightened, knowing that his card had just come into play.
"Listen pig, can you actually tell me that it was this monster you hope to destroy? From what I see, you have no solid evidence. The area was a known as a trafficking route. It's all too common for opposing criminals to get into disagreements and disappear so no one can follow the other's trail. Besides, that was like you said, two years before the breach. Now as for the titan," Levi spoke sternly, eyes pure platinum in utter seriousness as he came around the rail barrier. "You better ask yourself if you are capable of killing the beast if he decides to prey on you. I'm sure my reputation proceeds itself. If we fail, I'm very if not more than capable to take The Rogue Titan out if the situation calls for such an action. Although that is our last resort, its nothing that we can't handle."
The room was silent at humanity's strongest soldier's words; movement was void except for the slight shift in Levi's eyes towards the Commander. The tall blonde then raised his hand in proposal.
"Yes Commander?" Zackley questioned, folding his hands together, barely directing his gaze to the man.
"I have another suggestion to go along with our proposal."
"What is it?"
"If we are able to capture The Rogue Titan, I will place him under mostly Levi's supervision. The Corporal is a very capable candidate to train the titan."
Levi nearly scoffed. 'Yeah, like training a damn dirty dog. Thanks Erwin.'
"And if the titan lashes out with the intent to kill, then Corporal Levi will dispose of The Rogue if it comes to that."
The room grew quiet again as Zackley relaxed at his podium, lids closed in consideration. Levi too, remained in his own world of thought. With Nile's crafty intrusion, this was their only way to come back into the game. Deep in his mind, the short man was sure that they would not have to resort to such a drastic measure after what he had seen at Trost. The choice to use the words to point out a willingness to execute if need be, could very well save them. Of course, far into his core, if they won – Levi hoped that this action would never have to be taken. Although the titan seemed used to their presence, The Rogue wasn't tame. He was a wild creature – one that could very well kill if provoked. Zackley then stood from his seat, his form looming over them with commanding influence.
"I have made my decision."
The blue hues of the blonde teen peered up to the absent sky as he remained sealed away in his own state of mind. The sun had long since sunk behind the trees, giving way to an opaque and dark palette. The heavens were strewn with constellations, clearly visible to the naked eye with the lack of interruption. The area in which he stood was unsettling despite the beauty above. The surrounding cadets were in a state of mind that Armin could recognize as exceedingly nervous or silent hysteria. Few were in conversation; hardly any of those exchanges were speaking of something pleasant. He could understand why.
Armin sniffed, blowing his nose to rid the smell of burnt flesh and ash from his nostrils, the vile product of bodies that had to be gathered and burned hours before to reduce the spread of disease. It had been nearly five days since the siege upon Trost. Since then, so much had changed. Not only were there the vast amounts of sadness that clung to all survivors, but there was also a twinge of optimism. Armin was still in a state of awe and disbelief that Rogue had appeared at the breach. It was hard to swallow for him and Mikasa. However, he almost felt that he shouldn't be surprised at the titan's act. During the years that he had lived with Rogue, Armin knew the crafty beast was up to something, even if he didn't want to believe it. The rumors spread by the Garrison had formed an epiphany for the teen, only becoming truth as Rogue carried out his self made mission in the bloody streets. Armin swallowed his nerves once more; thinking of the fifteen-meter's display. Rogue was truly relentless. His hidden power and nature had been his pilot, violent justice with powerful fists, teeth, and a surging bloodlust. Although it was stomach churning and utterly terrifying, Rogue was an inspiration to those who witnessed his power– a beacon of hope that had become a widespread celebrity overnight.
Of course, there was another fact about Rogue that swam in Armin's head in repetitive circles. In spite of their long absence, the titan was still aware of their existence. Although the creature looked completely consumed by rage at points during his hunt, those few precious moments of hearing familiar whines and longing calls from Rogue brought the boy and girl much relief – but also grief. Their beloved friend was desperate for their company and safety, a thought that warmed Armin to the core. To see the creature ultimately fail to retrieve them was heartbreaking; Armin could barely stand to watch as their giant ally screeched for help and in fear as soldiers surrounded him. The boy hated it. He despised how they had to keep themselves hidden from the titan's emerald hues. But it had been for the better. It could have been a lot worse – someone mistaking the titan as an enemy and killing him foolishly.
Armin sank down to the dirt, sitting against a brick wall next to Mikasa who appeared to be racing among similar thoughts like his. For several minutes it was silent between the two teens, their dull eyes staring out at the somber crowd before Mikasa shifted uncomfortably, forehead rumpling slightly just as it did whenever something bothered her.
"What do you think they plan to do about him, Armin?" The dark haired teen muttered between her lips. "Everyone saw him. They saw how powerful he was. He dispatched our enemy, plugged the breach, and even scaled Wall Rose. I don't think they are going to leave this be so easily. Rogue's shown his prospective value."
Armin exhaled despairingly. "You're right Mikasa. They're going to do something about this. He's way too valuable to be left alone. I know the Scouts are planning something. It's a bit obvious what and I bet they are going to debrief their plans here tonight. It's not often that they headline for a ceremony like this."
Mikasa turned to the teen sharply, realizing what he was speaking of. "You don't think they –
"They won't do harm. He's one of a kind." Armin promptly informed. " I can almost guarantee that is their plan. If so, we can probably work this to our advantage."
She blinked. "How so?"
Before Armin could dwell on his facts further, Connie and Sasha joined them next to the wall, looking just as worn and anxious as the others. It was strange not seeing them in high spirits, but of course everyone in their small circle of colleges knew the source. It was the night of the Choosing Ceremony, the assembly of the 104th Cadets to choose their regiments. Not only that, but it was a time of mourning. In addition to losing both Mina and Thomas, Marco had fallen victim to the titan's wrath as well. It was a heavy blow to those that knew him, especially when no one saw what had exactly happened. It was a mystery that was never to be solved.
It was a long moment of watching leaves rustle against the gentle wind before Connie heaved a hefty sigh. "You know – I'm not sure what to do now. After Trost happened I've been so torn. I always wanted to join the MPs where it would be safe in the interior. Even though a new form of hope has appeared, I don't really know if I ever want to see the face of a mindless titan again. Of course, if those monsters can break through Walls Maria and Rose, they will get into Sina sooner or later. I could prolong my death in safety or I could fight for hope and leave my mark with no guarantee I'll survive." The teen sighed, tilting his head back against the bricks. "Screwed either way."
"Yeah, I don't know what to do either." Sasha agreed. "Have you two changed your minds at all?" The brunette queried.
As he expected, Armin felt several beads of sweat form along his neck, fearful of answering the girl's query. Mikasa then shifted.
"Our decision stands." The exotic teen alliterated flatly. "We're fighting for our brother and loved ones. Connie is right about both paths leading to the same fate, but with the return of The Rogue Titan one of those paths could change. Armin and I are still going for the Scouts. Nothing is going to change our minds."
The three blinked at Mikasa's blunt response, amazed by her lack of fear. Armin eventually nodded.
"No matter what. We're joining the Survey Corps. That's where hope is." He finished on an ironic note, using carefully selected words to express his meaning but hiding the truth.
Both Connie and Sasha collectively looked to the dirt before them, still dueling with their internal conflictions. Several more tense seconds passed before the girl sighed, amazingly ignoring her grumbling stomach.
"Do you guys think that Jean was serious earlier? I mean – his goal was to be a member of the MPs and serve the king. When he found – well you know… he looked like he had gone off the deep end." Sasha whispered as she and the three other teens turned to view the usually arrogant teen who walked alone among the tree line – even at a distance the boy's long face held pain.
As stubborn as Jean was, both Armin and even Mikasa could not help but feel his sorrow. Every cadet knew that Marco was the standoffish teen's best friend. To make matters worse, Jean was the one to find Marco's body – or at least half of it. That evening, while watching their ally's corpses succumb to blazing flame, tears had been seen coming from Jean's eyes for the first time since they had known him. With a lust for revenge, the boy had made his decision right at the depths of hell to join the Scouts. To Armin, it was as if a fire had been lit under Jean himself. "Judging by the tone he used and his sincerity, I don't think he's bluffing." Armin eventually answered, watching as Jean stopped to slouch against a tree, constantly glancing to the empty stage before them.
"I think you could be right."
Suddenly, a loud bell was rung across the yard, stealing every cadet away from their cones of silence or quiet colloquies. The blonde's heart barely thundered; remaining steady due to the long preparations he had formed for this moment. Mikasa too, looked barely fazed by the gathering signal, but the others were clearly thrown into a state of emotionless and quiet madness.
"All cadets report before the stage! Time to make your choices!" A man ordered, no sympathy present in his voice – the kind of person that treated everything as an assembly line in Armin's eyes. One by one, the members of the 104th lined up in rows, fluctuating nervously in their boots – soles now worn from years of brutal abuse. Armin and Mikasa placed themselves next to one another, keeping together and off to the side so they could absorb information without interruption. Thankfully, the others had followed suite in separating themselves among the crowd, faces that Armin felt that he would never see again. After a tense minute full of rustling boots and uneasy breaths, a tall blonde man revealed himself. The man's features gave him away immediately. With thick brows, finely combed golden hair, and piercing blue eyes the male's identity was none other than Commander Erwin Smith. Armin had never met the leader of the Scouts in person, but it was evident that the theories about the man were true. Erwin's face was sculpted into a serious gaze that looked as if it was permanently bestowed upon his façade. The man was a calculating and stringent individual. From countless lectures about the Commander during his time as a trainee, Armin knew that Erwin was a strategic genius. The fact that the Commander was before them meant that this was certainly a sign that plans had been made. As to what those plans were, Armin had a very clear idea.
"My name is Erwin Smith, Commander of the Scouts." He began, voice just as solid as his looks. "By the end of this ceremony you will branch off into one of three military fractions as you probably have come to know. By my presence here, I'm assuming that you all have many questions. My purpose is to disclose with you some vital information that could aid to your decision." The Commander paused, looking intently at his audience as if to scrutinize every crease of worry or uncertainty in their faces. "The following information is the results of a controversial trial held in the capitol of Sina a few days ago. Such info has not been disclosed to the pubic yet but will so within the coming morning. I'm sure you are all aware of the events at Trost, particularly the appearance and actions of The Rogue Titan."
At the mention of Rogue's new alias, Erwin's audience seemed to instantly focus, ready to absorb every word. Perspiration formed on Armin's pale palms as his heart picked up speed. So far, his suspicions had been correct.
"For those of you that are a bit unclear or not familiar with the titan's actions during Trost, allow me to shed some light. Besides sealing the breach and the creature's intelligence, it was estimated that The Rogue killed almost thirty titans within the short time span of three hours. That number is incredible. In fact, that's more than what a single experienced Scout could average in their lifetime."
Armin's eyes widened. 'I only saw him kill at least ten! My god Rogue… his bloodlust is even greater than I thought.'
"I believe if this titan wanted to hunt more of his kind that day, he very well would have. Now, the trial that was held was to determine The Rogue's fate. Our proposal was to use this titan for the good of humanity – ultimately our case was won. In a few days, our elite teams of experts are to head into Wall Maria and capture The Rogue Titan."
'I knew it!'
Erwin cleared his throat, silencing the rustle of whispers that had swum through the sea of recruits. "Before I get into detailed plans of capture, I will share with you what we know about this titan, more information that's new to your ears. For the past five years, we studied The Rogue in secret. In truth, we happened upon this specimen when one of our squads was ambushed by a large group of normals. As you can imagine they were overwhelmed until The Rogue arrived and slaughtered the dozen present. Like in Trost, the titan wasn't interested in our consumption. Since then our expeditions have been pure scientific study of this titan. The Rogue's behavior is something that no other titan has ever exhibited before. We found that our subject has human level intelligence equal to that of an adolescent, is active at night as it is during the day, has acute senses such as hearing and smell, and has some very animalistic like traits that resemble felines and canines – further examples of that include hissing, purring, climbing trees and walls, and even territorial marking. Further observation revealed that The Rogue is very curious in human activity and objects – even to the point of intruding into our own camp while most of us were in repose."
Armin felt himself nearly convulsing at every word. Rogue had really went to such extremes? He had known that the titan was fond of exploration and observation, but Armin had not a clue as to just how far Rogue would go to look at something that captured his interest.
"In addition to The Rogue's curiosity, there is possible evidence that the titan may be able to understand spoken language to a certain degree."
The pupils in Armin's eyes shrank at the Commander's news. 'What did he do?' The blonde silently questioned himself. 'Could he have spoke? No, Rogue's too shy to – or maybe he could have…' The teen continued to ponder frantically as the surrounding cadets became bewildered by Erwin's words. How much did the Scouts know?
"Yes. You heard correct. The Rogue may have an understanding of spoken word. But like much that is known about the titans themselves – it's speculation. However, do let that sink in. Because of this specimen's strength and smarts, this capture will be far more complex than any other. Thus is why we will need any able body we can get. Now, as the plan goes…" Erwin trailed off as two other members of the Scouts, a pleasant looking redhead and another arrogant looking soldier, carried a large roll from behind the stage. Together, they unveiled the scroll's contents to the crowd to view – a large map of southern Wall Maria that was decorated in strategic marks. The Commander then motioned for the large-scale diagram, gesturing over a large wooded area highlighted by a red barrier. "The indicated area is what we have been able to confirm as The Rogue's territory. The landscape is mostly forest area, home to the infamous giant trees with the exception of vacant fields outside the perimeter. The titan has also been spotted on occasion at the areas you see marked in blue. This is the jest of the capture plan. Since the gate of Trost is no longer operable, we are forced to depart from Katness district. Because of that, it will take about four days to reach the forest of The Rogue Titan instead of the usual two." Erwin explained as he directed his gestures across the map in a designated path. "Upon arrival we will set up the first but delicate stages of our plan and utilize new confining equipment such as the titan equivalent of a bear trap. Our tactic will be to take this beast's curiosity and use it to our advantage."
Armin bit his lip, his mind swelling up with worry.
"Of course, I should also be brutally honest with you. Although the titan seems to be used to our presence, there is no telling how he will react to the company of weapons used. There is still a chance that The Rogue could go into a ballistic rage and attack in defense. If that occurs, it has been ordered by the government that The Rogue be slain immediately without further thought."
The blonde teen's heart stalled, rising higher in his tightening ribcage. He had seen Rogue become incredibly frightened by the sight of the military's pairing blades when they approached him. But what would the titan do if he were actually attacked? Would he truly lash out when shot with spikes? Would he go the great length to kill? With the way he forced his rage onto any enemy, it was possible. Armin blinked, thinking deeper. Then again Rogue wasn't completely ignorant. The titan was desperate; he wanted to reunite with them. Rogue wouldn't do anything to get himself killed. Of course – he did wander right into the eye of the storm.
"With that being said, the first mission will take place within a few days once preparations are made. Now, the veterans and elites of the Scouts will only attempt this first mission. As recruits, you will first train and learn the various techniques and formations before you venture out on this mission. You will be kept on standby."
The color from both Armin and Mikasa's faces drained in the slightest, blood running cold beneath soft and youthful flesh. 'Not allowed on the first outing?' Armin's mind raced. 'Damn it. We're going to have to think of another way!'
"In the last four years," Erwin continued. "The Scouts lost approximately ninety percent of their recruits." The Commander put bluntly, causing another anxious rustle to spread amongst the cadets, making Armin wonder why he was disclosing such a fact when the regiment was eager for new members. "Those are horrifying figures. However, with the addition of The Rogue Titan as a member we expect those numbers to decrease dramatically with our success rate rising substantially. So I ask of you, are you willing to fight for humanity? Are you willing to risk your life for hope?"
It was then silent, the sound of one another's breath almost torture in the tense atmosphere. The two teens remained emotionless and still as they gazed at the others from the corners of their eyes. Bodies were stiff, crippled by the impending decision at hand. Then, one by one, cadets turned and walked in the other direction – deciding that the uncertainty-surrounding Rogue was far too much of a gamble. The world seemed to turn grey at the moment, shrouding all in dread as more cadets brushed by. Armin's heart sank to his stomach in great disappointment. Even with all that was said, was a chance at hope not worth it?
Armin then searched for the familiar faces of his fellow classmates. To his surprise, Connie, Sasha, Krista, and even Jean remained standing in their places. Although they remained stagnant, it was painfully obvious that the other teens were inwardly struggling with the choice. Sweat was beaded upon their pale skin; hands trembled at their sides, and eyes nervously adverting back to the more comforting distance. They were utterly torn. He gulped; he wanted them to stay. Armin would need their support in the near future. Not in battle, but in believing him.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, no other soul walked from the assembly. A small group of no less than ten recruits, including their known classmates, stood before the Commander. Slowly, one by one, they pledged their hearts and souls to the man in a signature salute – barely able to hide their shaking bodies. Erwin nodded in satisfaction and returned the gesture in a proud by serious stance. For a moment, Armin briefly caught a small smile appear on the man's face.
"Welcome to the Scouts. We are honored to have all of you. Tomorrow morning you are to report to Scout Regiment headquarters within the southern part of Wall Rose, arriving no later than five pm to be assigned your uniforms, rooms, and temporary squads. Thank you and good evening." Erwin concluded before he casually left the stage, eyes scanning every new recruit as if to memorize every facial feature before disappearing completely with the other Scouts.
With the departure of their new subordinates, the group of teens began to make their way out of the lot to retreat to the comfort of their personal quarters. No one spoke to one another, trapped in their own mind in light of their decree. Both Armin and Mikasa trailed the pack, keeping far to the rear as the others walked ahead. A light tap on his shoulder demanded him to turn to its source. Mikasa's face was barely solid, making it obvious that she was straining to hold back her feelings as she motioned for Armin to follow her into a lonely alley between the barracks and a tall brick barrier. The dark haired teen double-checked to make sure they were truly alone before turning to Armin, her eyes looking worried yet almost dead.
"Armin, we need to tell them!" She whispered hastily. "What if Rogue feels that he needs to defend himself? What if they kill him! Unable to go on the first mission, we can't do anything! They need to know!"
"Mikasa." Armin stuttered, trying to will his brain to function and form words. "We can't do that." He sadly informed, taking note of Mikasa's expression of perplexity. "What I mean is if we just went up to Commander Erwin and Corporal Levi and told them about our relationship with Rogue there is no way that they would believe us. We have absolutely no proof!"
"But Armin," Mikasa began softly. "If they attack Rogue, he could get defensive. I mean – he killed those men that took us Armin. Plus the fact that he's certainly more hostile against his own. His temper is certainly shorter as well."
The blonde teen bit his lip. " I – don't think he will Mikasa. He wouldn't get himself killed if he wanted to find us. He's smart enough not to do so. Besides, he's only ever got defensive if it was us that were involved. In addition to that, and this is just a theory, when Rogue got into Shiganshina – there had to be some Garrison soldiers that went on the offensive. In other words, he most likely got fired upon. There were no reports of him actually attacking the Garrison at all. They say he just walked by them and there were even some that said he flipped the bird."
Mikasa exhaled heavily, interlacing her thumbs in thought. The teen then sank to the earth, relaxing against the wall with Armin quickly joining her. "I hope you're right, Armin. Rogue doesn't deserve to be hurt." She stalled, eyes suddenly growing dark and flickering with rage. "If they do, I will share with them my specialty of slicing up flesh."
Armin swallowed fretfully at his friend's vengeful words. "That won't be necessary, I assure you." He smiled, still hoping that he was speaking the truth. "As far as disclosing the truth about Rogue, the first chance we get to go on a capture mission – we make our move. In order to pull this off and get the Scouts to believe us, we have to show them Rogue in person if you know what I mean, Mikasa."
The raven-haired teen let out another tired and frustrated sigh. "I hope." She muttered as she hid her lips behind her scarf. "Dr. Jaeger did say that Rogue was the key." Mikasa informed.
Armin blinked, recalling the day after the first breach when he and Mikasa were speaking of what had transpired. His dear friend had told him of Dr. Jaeger's strange last words to her just before he was eaten. The two had gone over the statement multiple times discussing possible meanings. They had several theories, but they had no solid ideas. Armin almost cursed the late doctor for not elaborating, but he knew that the time was an exception. The boy sighed. "The key to everything."
Water threaded through his toes like tangled ribbons, feeling like sheets of fine silk against his rough flesh. The river's cooling bounty seemed to loosen every thread in his muscles. It was a quiet day, peaceful with warm light and a gentle breeze. Green hues gazed over the translucent surface of the flowing water, scrutinizing every scale and smooth movement of the swimming creatures. Fish as he remembered, while watching schools of them wrap and navigate around his feet – animals that usually brought a sense of peace and relaxation to him. But to his great misfortune, such a feeling was absent. Although the day was the perfect combination of serene and finery; Rogue was consumed with dread.
The titan loosened slightly, leaning his head back against a tree and letting his great arms sink in his lap. He shifted his feet, watching the water ripple and fish scatter before growing still. Rogue exhaled in minor irritation, upset that he couldn't seem to settle. Since his attempt to find his little ones and rampage within the human city, he felt utterly bitter and foolish. He had been ignorant. Did he really believe that he could just take his little ones from their home before the mass of uniformed men? Did he really think that they would let him? He could not have no matter what route he took. The only thing that he was able to do was clear the way and make it safe for them to continue on living within the walls. He could do nothing more. Only fight. Rogue was impatient. He would have to wait for his little ones. He could not go get them no matter how much he wanted too.
He hated it. He really fucking did.
Rogue lowered his chin, ears pinning against his skull as he continued to roam his frustration. He felt just as lonely as ever. Nothing wanted to be around him, not even other titans – sensing every ounce of bottled rage radiating from his warm flesh. His deer as well moved in retreat from him if he took a step in advance. Rogue was without company and compassion. The affable titan was miserable. He had spent the entire week since returning upon his territory sulking as he tried to recover from the great strain from his actions. For the first three days, he simply lay in his nest – disheveled and depressed until he felt so disturbed and angry that he had to vent his fury upon his kin. For two days he brawled with any titan that he could get his hands on – ignoring his recovering body as he painted his territory red. Finally, he was where he was now, trying to calm his vengeful thoughts – which he couldn't say the technique was working.
Of course, he wasn't just remaining reserved for the sake of his feelings but also because he was leery. Upon his immediate departure over the wall, the uniformed men had frightened him, believing that they did not trust him after all he had done. Yet, some of the men's tones were ones of almost sympathy – even the short flying human sounded that way. Still, he wasn't for sure of their intentions, so he would avoid any trips to the wall for a while until tensions calmed. He wasn't going to take that risk. He could not do something to get himself killed. He had made a promise.
Rogue turned his gaze to the water's crystalline surface, watching the reflecting light and liquid lap against the water worn rocks. Weeks ago, he would call this another one of his favorite places to relax, but now it was just unsettling, The titan's mind was in a constant blender mixing hindrance and desolation. Lately, it seemed that anything he tried, Rogue could not clear his head of his feelings. The beast sighed, unworldly hues catching sight of a small pebble shaped lizard that had come into his wake. The fifteen-meter titan tilted his head, driven by the desire for company; Rogue shifted his hand to pick up the minuscule organism to place in his palm. Any attention from anything was good enough. To his improbable misfortune, the small reptile caught sight of his immense form and urgently motioned away from Rogue, moving as comically fast as it could. The titan snorted with resentment. Not even this pitiful creature wanted to be in his presence.
Restless and unable to make any sort of acquaintance, Rogue gradually got to his feet upon the stone riverbank. Disappointed with it all, the towering beast retreated back into the forest – searching to clear his head. Just as it always was during the summer, the forest was green and lively, bustling with activity from rejuvenated life. However, the cheerful melodies of birds and other pleasing sounds, silenced as Rogue passed through the wood. He hung his head. Perhaps his forest could sense his feelings, too.
For several minutes, leading up to over an hour, Rogue strolled among the quiet vegetation. Deeper into his domain he ventured, not having a set destination in mind. God how he wished that he could just blink and he would have his life back. Every bit of his old life with both his little ones and his humans. Alas, that was never to be. Yes, all he could do was prepare for his little ones if they returned.
If they ever returned.
Suddenly, an ever-familiar scent swept before his nose. Rouge paused in his stride, eyes widening ever so slightly as his ear flicked characteristically. The titan sniffed to confirm, discovering he had been correct, his answer sending him into a state of confliction. It was not mistakenly the flying humans on another one of their hunts. Rogue's brow furrowed a bit as he started forward again, his mind weighing his options. He was in a bad mood, depressed from it all. The beast's instincts were warning him to be leery just as they usually did when he was in the presence of the uniformed men. However, his contact with them previously was telling Rogue otherwise. It was the blade and flower backs that had made their unsettling approaches that day; the flying humans merely supervised and took down his surrounding kin. They didn't seem hostile by any means during that time. In fact they were helpful. A small smile tugged at the corners of Rogue's mouth. Perhaps he should go in search of them. After all, it seemed that they had taken an interest in him. Maybe they would temporarily aid his sense of loneliness.
The titan then shifted his course, rumbling a bit as he thought about listening to actual words again. The thought excited him. If he couldn't be with his little ones, these uniformed men were the next best things. Surely they were not displeased with his previous help in their human city. The scent of the uniformed men grew stronger with each step. Rogue then pondered further. What if he was wrong? Could these humans be mad at him too? The idea made his frame shutter. How could anyone hate him for his help? The titan swallowed fretfully; perhaps it would just be best if he went back to his cove and attempt to coax his deer. Still, even as Rogue considered his plan, his legs felt as if they had minds of their own, propelling him forward at a casual pace. It was as if he was in a trance like state all over again.
Then, two recognizable scents from the flying humans hit him full blast. Naturally, Rogue covered his nape and came forth from the brush. The titan's eyes captured the images of two flying human forms. One was the redhead that he had grown fond of at a distance, her personality nearly as sweet as his Carla's. The other was the female with untidy hair and glasses that seemed to be the most intrigued by him at any time they exchanged looks. Rogue watched as the two turned to lay eyes upon him. As usual, Messy Hair produced a small animal like noise as her face lit up in enthusiasm.
"Ah! Look! There is our lovely Rogue Titan! He's just as ripped and handsome as usual! He doesn't even look tired from all the work he did!" She exclaimed as she dug in a pouch in search of something. "Who's a pretty boy?" She cooed. "You are! Yes you are!"
The titan huffed a small cloud of steam at her words. He could understand them well due to his humans speaking to him in a similar way long ago. Rogue would have welcomed the tone and words if they had been from those closest to him. He wasn't truly fond of similar phrases, making him feel a little silly and uncomfortable, but he tolerated the exaggerated librettos. Today however, he wasn't much for them. They just made him feel worse. Hearing the words coming from someone that he didn't know as well only made him feel even more ignorant. If he weren't before them, he would have rolled his eyes.
As the uniformed female continued to fish through her pouch, Rogue's gaze adverted to the redhead. The titan's brows furrowed slightly in confusion. Unlike Messy Hair, she didn't look nearly as enthused at his arrival. Her face was difficult to read, almost emotionless. The titan blinked. Was she worried? If so, why was she? The flying humans as well as she had been around him enough to know that he wasn't going to harm them.
Finally, the excited female then pulled what he recognized as some sort of metal cylinder – a small tool that looked like a cannon that could be held in a small pair of hands. Messy Hair then pointed the device to the sky, and pulled the trigger – sending a violet jet of smoke high into the clouds. Rogue found himself tilting his head slightly in even more bewilderment. From lurking among these humans he had come to learn that they used these tiny smoke cannons as another way to wordlessly communicate. The titan himself couldn't put a name to most colors that he could see with his naked eye, but he knew the usual colors of the smoke well enough. There was the green hue, color of the leaves and grass, blue as in the color of the sky, yellow like the sun, red like blood, and black like the night. Each of these had a meaning to the flying humans. He wasn't sure what the yellow, green, or blue meant, but he did know that red symbolized that they had seen his kind and black was that they had spotted a strange one. If he had to guess meanings of the others he would say help, retreat, or go on.
However, this new color he had never witnessed from the uniformed men. His little ones had said that it was known as 'violet' or 'purple' – a combination of red and blue. Again, Rogue blinked. What did this color mean to the humans?
"Alright! Let's hope the big fellow follows us!" The messy haired female declared as she abruptly flew from her perch, trailed by the redhead.
The titan dithered. Was that what the violet smoke meant? Was it a signal for the flying humans to come together? More so, going by the female's spoken words that included the hopeful invite, did they want him to join them? Rogue shifted his weight on the balls of his feet, weighing his choices. Was it possible that they wished to thank him for his aid? They seemed a bit eager for him to come to their pack's gathering. He hesitated further, or was he wrong? The titan took a single step forward. No. They had to be grateful to him. There was no reason for them to resent him. Rogue took a second step, then a third and fourth. Worries aside, it would feel good to hear human voices again. He really wanted some company that could respond to him. Rogue was desperate for it. Hungry for attention.
So he jogged forward.
Rogue sniffed and searched for the two flying humans, listening for their invisible wings. Rounding another cluster of trees, the titan spotted the two sailing just beyond, heading into the deep forest again. As he moved, Rogue watched the two gain speed, heading down a natural path guided and shaped by the towering trees. Sunlight barely graced the earth through the canopy, light only appearing in patches. The titan then slowed his jog as the two humans came to a stop many meters ahead, landing on branches that served as a temporary perch for the man with whiskers, the eyebrow man, and the short man. For several moments they exchanged complex words that Rogue could find no meaning too, before turning their attention back to the waiting titan. To the beast's surprise, the group of humans settled into the branches very much like they had done many times before when resting or gathering up in the trees surrounding him to observe his actions. Rogue's ears flickered, facing forward in attentiveness. The uniformed men had not done this in his likeness before. Was it possible that they really were waiting on him?
If so, he didn't want to disappoint. From his previous actions, he wanted to be on his best behavior. Sitting near them as they liked might do both of them some good.
Deciding to put away his frustrations, Rogue slowly took a step forward, walking leisurely with his nape still under his palm for safe measure. The titan's line of sight traveled around the high foliage, finding the other members of the flying human pack resting among the thick coverage as well. Like the redhead, their faces were nearly emotionless, watching him as they leaned on the odd objects that looked like a wooden honeycomb – eyes following his immense form closely. Rogue rumbled a low and neutral greeting, ensuring them that he had followed their request. As he slowly made his way among the strewn leaves and brush, an unsettling sensation fell over the titan.
Something was off. Something wasn't right.
Unaware that he was still walking forward, Rogue gave into nous of nervousness. Though the level of apprehension wasn't near what he felt when the walls were breached, it was well enough for the titan to take into account. The beast's tight and leathery flesh prickled and his hair stood on end. A knot of trepidation grew in his stomach as he slowly continued. Rogue's emerald orbs wandered among the trees as his tapered ears wilted further with each passing second. The titan's heart thundered in his ribcage as fear began to further settle in. Still, Rogue walked forward, not noticing how the tip of one of his toes had brushed away a bit of verdure – revealing a set of giant steel jaws that lay in wait like every breathing soul around him.
Finally, Rogue's anxiety forced him to halt mid-step, foot hovering just over another steel trap that the titan had failed to notice. Rogue looked around at the other humans, beholding the few leaders holding a cable that fed to one of their large wooden honeycombs. Rogue's irises and pupils grew as he looked at the group of humans and their strange tools in alarm. Then, instinct, one pertaining to fight or flight, rocketed through his bloodstream. A voice deep in his mind screamed out a single order:
Like lightning crossing the heavens, Rogue sharply pivoted on his heel – turning in the direction that he come and bolted. The titan charged at full speed, hand over his weak spot and mind in a whirl of panic.
"Shit! He found out!"
"Quick! Realign the barrel shots!" The blonde leader ordered. "Ensnare him before he leaves the perimeter!"
Rogue continued forward, cursing himself for his ignorance yet again. He should have known! Before he could think further, a searing and crippling pain shot through his right leg, causing him to wail in agony – the cry ear splitting as he fell to the earth. The titan quickly turned to see that his foot had been torn off, bone, blood, and sinew in a set of steel teeth – something he could only associate as one of the flying human's tools.
"Yes! The traps worked!
"Hurry! Get him before his foot heals!"
Feral eyes darted back to his now hunters, realizing that he was something that he had never been before, prey. Instinctively, Rogue snarled a warning through his maw, ears pressed flat against either side of his head as the titan struggled to get back to his feet – toppling over on his steaming stump. These humans. They had betrayed him! Why! Why were they doing such a thing? He had done nothing wrong! Had he really made them angry? Rage boiled in his blood. Fire seemed to burn within him, and not the good kind. For the first time in his life, Rogue felt like smiting the human titan hunters. Just when he was almost truly trusting of them, they had disowned him! Still, he could not attack them. He had sworn against such an act. Made a promise. Not only could he not break his vow, but also he couldn't endanger himself. He had to get away! He had to!
Just as the barrel shots were adjusted, Rogue threw himself into another full speed retreat, moving on both of his hands and one leg – ignoring his repairing foot. Although the stance left his nape wide open, the unfamiliar position allowed him to pull away with surprising speed.
"Holy shit! He's fast! Even missing part of his foot, he's fast!"
"Fire! Fire the barrel shots!"
Another loud and reverberating blast assaulted Rogue's ears, making him wince slightly in his desperate evacuation. Again, pain soared all across his muscles as a series of barbed spikes from the shot implanted into his flesh. The titan roared in discomfort once again, but still he charged forward – puling the cables attached to the barbs and yanking the weapons from the trees with little force as the behemoth raced along. Splintered wood rained in all directions as the barrels met bark with great force, rendering them useless.
"The barrel shots are too light!"
"Get in front of him! Slow him down and bind him with cables!" The leader ordered profoundly.
The words were merely white noise upon his ears at the moment as he focused on placing one limb before the other. Dirt and debris flew from Rogue's might, disturbed as the titan's large hands pounded the bark of trees and the earth. He vastly ignored the pain in his shoulders, thighs, and rear as he moved unnaturally across the forest floor. Rogue rebounded against another towering tree, propelling himself high into the air by several meters before touching down again. The nerve endings in the creature's newly formed toes completed themselves with a tingling sting, signaling Rogue to finally plant his rejuvenated foot to the ground. With a powerful thrust forward, the titan re-positioned himself upright, racing faster than before in a destination that he hadn't decided on yet.
Pain equivalent to that of sharp pinprick met the titan's waist. Alarmed, Rogue glanced down, vision cutting through his messy flowing locks too see that one of the flying humans had sent his cable deep past the beast's skin to anchor itself to his massive form. Rogue released another powerful wail that sounded dangerously close to a scream. For a moment, the startled titan considered grasping the man's delicate body and throwing him off, but he then realized that was a death sentence. If one bee was bothered, then the whole hive was bothered. Quickly, Rogue twisted sharply to change direction, turning so harsh that the attached soldier was violently torn from his grip on the creature's hide. The flying human's cables were dislodged; completely useless and slack as the human landed harshly in a mass of brambles and bushes. Apart from bruises and thorns, the traitor was alive but Rogue could do no celebration. He had to keep moving. Another pair of humans dove before him, ready to pin the titan's arms to his broad chest. However, the beast had seem them coming and stopped dead in his sprint before changing direction yet again, causing the two unlucky soldiers to collide and tumble to the mossy floor of the wood.
Rogue glanced over his pumping shoulder, monitoring the flying humans' pursuit, seeing that they were not far behind and still cursing constantly in aggravation. Recalling his first time evading the pack, the despairing titan inhaled a large amount of the fresh forest air before exhaling an enormous amount of thick and foul smelling steam – breath tainted by his previous prey. Rogue mirrored his action, producing another thick bulk of fog as he darted in and out of trees, careful not to unintentionally run over anything that would give himself away.
"Don't lose him! He's done this trick before! Keep your eyes and ears peeled!"
The titan pushed himself further, heart thundering against his sturdy bones as he threw his lightened body left and right. Once more, Rogue peered over his shoulder, seeing that the flying humans were far behind and trapped in the makeshift cover up. Satisfied but still longing for a certain escape, Rogue darted into a labyrinth of massive rocks and high cliffs. The rough terrain was covered in various types of moss and interlaced with a network of vines. The titan knew the patch of rock well, sometimes he would lure his kin here before finishing them off or ambush his unsuspecting enemy. Before that, he and his little ones used to scour the area for geos, an amazing stone with other shining stones within it that Armin had shown him. Now, it was shelter and a place to think.
Rogue hastily positioned himself out of sight beneath an overhanging ledge and behind a massive bolder that was near the size that he had lifted a week before. The titan ripped the loose cables from his flesh before he pressed his back against the rough texture, green pools wide in shock and hair messily draping across his face as Rogue's breath heaved in his chest. Nervously, he glanced around him before adverting his gaze to his dirty feet – hues unblinking with his mind corroded with terror. Why? Why where these uniformed men attacking him suddenly? What did they want to do? Rogue shuttered, frame visibly shaking as theories played out in his bustling head. Where these humans trying to kill him now like every other titan that they hunted? Was he as much of a monster as they were now since he had made himself known? Wait. That couldn't be, Rogue realized. By observing the flying human pack's hunts, they killed his kind instantly with no delay. The Short One would have killed him faster than he could blink. If they had wanted to end his life, they would have done so already with no further thought. Rogue's heart continued to beat, eyes and ears constantly checking for his pursuers. Was it possible that the flying humans wanted to capture him? He was no stranger to seeing humans in the past capture various furry creatures in strange human devices. These uniformed men seemed to be doing the same thing with their cables and strange wooden honeycomb cannons. No, they weren't trying to kill him; they were trying to obtain him.
Like an animal.
The titan hung his head sadly. Yes, he was nothing but a beast. However, he could not let the flying humans succeed. If he was in their clutches, he couldn't wait or look for his little ones. Their relationship would be completely severed, one that only hung by a singe thread anyway – an affiliation thick as a rope that had been trimmed and worn down into one that was in the balance of being saved or being cut. Rogue glanced beyond the ridge of rock, looking off into the direction of his cove. It was far too risky to head for his home; the flying human pack would merely follow him and expose his hideout. He would have to evade them and stop them without killing them. But what!
Rogue's ears flicked at the sound of the uniformed men's translucent wings, sensing that they were gaining ground on his position. He couldn't stay where he was. Soon, he would have to move. Then again, how was he to slip away unseen? The titan rummaged through his mind as fast as he was able, conjuring up a bizarre plan that just might work in his favor.
Or otherwise get him killed.
"How the hell did we loose that bastard again!" Oluo declared as he landed with a huff next to Levi in the rocky gorge.
The corporal blinked in amazement as he and the other higher ups scanned the stony landscape. Like the others, he was shocked and surprised at the turnout of the ongoing mission. For days they had made their plan of capture and calculated everything, or so it seemed. Levi had never expected for The Rogue to sense and figure out what was in store for him. Their original execution was that they were to reel in the titan by its curiosity and capture it via the barbs and cables. But in light of The Rogue fleeing before reaching firing range and destroying barrel shots by the sheer mass of his own immense body, it was clear they had been reduced to the unpredictable option of improvising.
Along with both Hange and Erwin, Levi watched as Mike sniffed the air in search of any traces of their target. The quiet man then frowned and ran his fingers along his bristly chin in thought, nails picking at each individual hair.
"So?" Erwin asked. "Any sign of him?"
Mike shrugged. "He's as sly as a fox. He's certainly mastered the disappearing act, but this time I can still pick up on him. The Rogue stayed here for quite a bit – a few minute's tops. Then it looks like he left north in the direction of the plains."
"That's odd." Hange added. "Why would he go out in the open if he wanted to hide? It's clear he knows his territory and the area well, but why?"
Levi scoffed, amazed that the fact had never seemed to cross the scientist's mind. "He's smart and he's watched nearly all of our expeditions in this area. The Rogue's probably aware that we can't effectively use our maneuver gear on flat and treeless terrain, Shitty Glasses."
The Commander nodded. "That could very well be true. He's intelligent, so it's possible." Erwin articulated. "We push forward to the fields. If we see the titan, hang back so we can figure a plan of execution. Let's move!"
The Corporal and the rest of the Scouts quickly trailed Erwin as he rocketed off the stone terrain. For several minutes, the group of baffled humans followed the direction of Mike's nose, sailing quietly as possible high in the canopy. As they moved, Levi's watchful eyes caught sight of the slight indications that The Rogue Titan had indeed gone in the very direction proposed. Several broken twigs, though small and insignificant, were ever telling. Not only that, but the careful titan had mistakenly stepped in a patch of mud, leaving behind his distinct footprint that was incredibly unique – indents and evidence of the titan's claw like nails clearly present. Levi's eyes flickered, The Rogue was definitely meticulous, a trait that had clearly shown when the beast had eluded the Scouts for years when raiding their depots. Now however, it seemed that the creature was ignoring the details. Of course, even with humans, one tended to overlook things when they were unnerved.
Soon, the team of Scouts came to rest within a tangle of thick branches overlooking a vast plain –familiar to those who had first seen The Rogue since it was the very spot of their faithful meeting. A signature scowl came to Levi's face as he glared at the field's only inhabitants, a group of eight titans that roamed without a thought. Disgusted, he turned to Erwin who was questioning Mike.
"Odd. The Rogue should be somewhere around here." Mike spoke in a low tone, sounding nearly disappointed in himself. "His scent leads here and it's incredibly strong." He paused. "I don't understand how this guy vanishes so easily."
"It's amazing isn't it!" Hange squealed softly. "Usually captures are so uneventful! Our handsome man is making us work for once! So exciting!"
Levi rolled his eyes. "This is just fucking aggravating. Not exciting what so ever." He retorted as he glared out into the field, watching to see if any of the other titans had noticed their presence. Sure enough, some had already smelt them and were ever so slowly lumbering in their direction. All except for one. At the far right of the field was an odd looking titan. It walked slouched, partially dragging one of its legs and limping every few steps. The monster's shoulders were tilted at an anomalous angle, one arm dangling loosely at its side and the other cresting over the back of its neck. The titan had a head full of hair that was wiry and hanging over its face, covering its ears and features. Levi's icy blue irises grew at the sight. Was the titan really… "Hange." The short man began urgently, capturing the excited titan enthusiast's attention.
Hange looked to the Corporal in question, not used to the man's imperative tone. "Yes, Levi?"
"That abnormal there," He began as he pointed to the beast, the others following his observation. "It looks out of place doesn't it? Something is off with it, and not in the usual way that abnormals are."
The unkempt and curious brunette stared long and hard at the lumbering titan, her wide orbs growing wider. "You're right. That limp, it couldn't be possible with that titan's proportions that are perfect in every sense. It looks like it's forcing itself to lean and walk that way instead of moving naturally."
"It appears like it's forcing its gut to pooch out as well – a difficult thing to do when you have no ounce of fat on your body and you're nothing but muscle." Levi scoffed. "It's even making sure its nape is concealed in the most undetectable way possible."
Hange nearly squealed once more, fists trembling in utter enthusiasm. "What a cleaver creature he is! The Rogue has disguised himself to look like a regular titan in order to escape!"
"What an interesting defense." Erwin agreed as he began to watch the beast with both Hange and Levi. "Very clever indeed."
The Rogue titan then paused at the tree line, with the Scouts watching in awe, the mammoth creature looked two and fro from beneath its draping locks. The titan's pointed ears then pushed themselves from the wild strands to survey the plain with a few flicks, the Survey Corps remaining silent. The creature then abandoned its crippled stance to retake its usual upright position. Much like a human, The Rogue then smoothed its unruly hair from its face to reveal its piercing emeralds and grotesque features. After one last look, the giant being then charged into the forest again, leaving the Scouts spellbound.
"Are you kidding me?" Oluo began, breaking the silence. "It plays pretend too!"
"Amazing. I've never seen a titan mimic another one before." Petra muttered.
"That big brat is a lot smarter than I originally thought." Levi spoke beneath his breath.
"Hange." Erwin started as he looked to both Levi and the Squad leader. "Do you still think that The Rogue Titan has the mental capacity of a child?"
The scientist hesitated, instinctively running a palm over her brow. "I'm not so sure anymore."
The Commander was silent, looking off at where The Rogue had gone. The tall blonde's large brows then furrowed in determination. "Alright here's what we do. This may be our last chance for the day so we need to be precise. I'll lead the platoon after The Rogue, hitting him from three angles. From what I'm able to discern, he's headed for the fork in the deep forest – another likely place where he can hide or lose us. This is where you and your squad will come in Levi. Your job is to cut the creature off and immobilize him with no violent contact. Use your strongest binding cables and anchors and disguise your scent so The Rogue doesn't notice you early on. If he attacks you, then you know what must be done, Levi. Remember what we talked about?"
He nodded, thinking back to the late night conversation that he and the Commander had the night before. Though it was vague, it was clear to Levi's understanding on what his real task was. "Yes, Sir." The Corporal saluted. Erwin dipped his head.
"Good and good luck to you and your squad." He dismissed, steering the Scouts into pursuit.
Levi then prepped his team, the most elite of the elite, silently hoping that they were going to have a lucky break. But with this titan, he wasn't so sure.
Rogue hummed smugly to himself, pleased at his clever maneuver. He felt fortunate that his bizarre plan had worked. Amazed even. The titan smirked; his pursuers had been foolish enough to overlook him as he remained in plain sight. Needless to say, Rogue felt proud of himself as he jogged lightly through his forest. To ensure his total escape and to throw the flying human pack off more, he was heading to a place where the river forked, an area deep enough so he could submerge himself in the murky depths to hide completely by sight and scent.
Still however, the whole ordeal was a great encumbrance upon him. It made him feel ill at the thought of these uniformed men's sudden decision. Why did they want to capture him? It didn't make any sense to the titan at all. What could these humans possibly want from him? What did they hope to gain from his capture? Bragging rights? Like he was a trophy? Rogue clenched his teeth as he continued further. Whatever the reason, he knew that he hated them. Not as much as the titans, but enough all the same.
Suddenly, a barrage of violent hissing and buzzing met his tapered ears, tough cartilage straining to the source. Alarmed, Rogue turned to see his hunters too much of his dismay. The titan growled, wordlessly cursing himself as he yet again lunged forward into a sprint. An hour and a half had already passed since the flying humans had begun to hunt their prey, and already the charade was getting old.
"Quickly! Pin his arms to his chest! Hurry!"
Rogue charged ahead at full speed, hoping to outrun his seekers. Unfortunately, the harrowing sounds of their invisible wing beats whizzed by his ears. Quickly, the titan threw his hand over his nape in protection, keeping his sights onto the uniformed men. From the corner of his eye, Rogue caught movement, the fast motion of cable and grappling hook shooting just below his shoulder. On reflex alone, the titan quickly grabbed the cable before the hook could embed in any surface. Both Rogue and the soldier attached to the cable gave a short look in surprise before the creature instinctively took action. Like a toy, the titan swung his frightened catch, the man looping in an arch as Rogue released the cable from his grip. His unsuspecting victim then landed roughly in the tree tops, cables tangled in the branches and pulled beyond use. Seeing the aftermath of his action, Rogue had an epiphany. He could ensnare the flying humans up in the trees by their cables, hanging them like ornaments! The idea was perfect, more so safe. He could effectively loose his pursuers without killing them, the only physical damage being minor cuts and bruises. Not only that, but they were away from the reach of other members of his kin. Rogue smirked, the technique felt almost natural to him. Hours of tossing a ball with his little ones and polishing his combat skills had improved his hand to eye coordination ten fold.
Within seconds, another cable sailed inches past his ear. Grunting angrily, Rogue snatched the soldier's cable and repeated his previous action, hanging the helpless soul upside down like a bat on a branch – the man's curses music to his ears. One by one, the cunning titan snagged Scouts in the canopy, leaving them behind in a shroud of their own confusion.
"Shit! He's grabbing our cables!"
"His reflexes, he's not even missing our shots!"
Rogue's smirk grew bigger, but then disappeared as a series of soldiers came from his side. But he was quick. As their cables came before him, Rogue dispatched of them effortlessly. The titan glanced over his shoulder at the path that he left behind, seeing that the vast majority of the flying humans were caught in their own steel webs and tangled in the trees – like a spider's prey. All that was left was the woman with messy hair, the man with whiskers, the eyebrow leader and a few other high ranking or loyal humans. Rogue's eyes narrowed. Where was Short One and the four other humans like the redhead and the annoying man? Had they volunteered to be left behind?
"Alright!" The leader announced, voice booming against the forest foliage. "Fall back!" The man ordered as he stopped in his quest to rest in a tree, the others around him joining him within the limbs and leaves. Rogue naturally raised a brow in question. Why were they hanging back? Was it possible that they were going to try and retrieve their stranded pack members? Not wanting to stick around, Rogue focused his attention forward.
Just in time too.
A large metal net was rapidly heading for his face, each of its four corners held by the missing flying humans that flew faster than the others. Stunned, Rogue quickly reached upward sooner than he could blink, giving in to his own protective instinct and a bit of fear. In the next second, his fingers were roughly forced into a fist, nails cutting into his skin as the cold steel wrapped tightly around his hand. The titan then opened his eyes to see the outcome of the advance, watching briefly as blood seeped from the small punctures in his flesh before looking for those that dared to ambush him. His heart skipped a beat as the titan and the five humans' eyes met one another. Rogue swallowed.
He was in serious trouble.
Yes, they were indeed who he thought they were, but he never imagined himself coming into direct contact with the small party of slayers. From previous and very far observation, Rogue knew very well that they were the most experienced of the pack- which meant that they were the most dangerous. Under the command of the Short Man, they were unstoppable. In the past, he had found them to be such a joy to watch. The redhead, the arrogant one, the blonde man with his hair restrained, and the brown-headed one were always in sync. They didn't even have to speak with one another to do so. Rogue glanced at his hand that was still bleeding and bound. The cables that kept the net attached would have to be cut away. The titan would need both of his hands to deal with his new opponents. Knowing that it was wise to still protect his nape, Rogue brought the cables to his teeth and began to chew through them.
"Damn. I can't believe he grabbed the net." The blonde one exclaimed as Rogue continued to nibble. "That and a titan is using its teeth for something besides eating. Your orders, Sir?"
"Simple, tangle the brat. Right now, he has one operable hand. Make use of it. Bring the brat to his knees so we can subdue him." The Short Man spoke sternly, voice laced in pure irritation. "Gunter and Eld, you know where to aim." He concluded with the two men nodding in understanding.
Rogue flinched, digging his teeth into the wire quicker than before, desperate to rid the net from his vital appendage. To the creature's misfortune, he wasn't quick enough. The gifted group of flying humans descended from their perch, moving just as fast as before with Rogue barely able to keep track of their advancing forms. The blonde and the brunette swooped low, like hawks after snakes – bodies perfectly poised and controlled. For a split second, Rogue was confused. Why were these uniformed men going so low? Then the obvious came to play. It was natural for a titan to aim straight in its line of sight whether killing off or pacifying an enemy. In a human's case as far as he was concerned, it was either to aim high for the kill or low to impair. Rogue prepared himself, placing his trapped hand over his nape protectively as he closely watched and waited for an opening. The two men then leveled out, flying only a mere few feet above the ground. The titan then watched as their positions shifted by a few degrees, the two soldiers beginning a wide rotation around his ankles. Although he had two other flying humans whizzing by his face, he knew better – a common distraction. Instead, he continued his focus. The cables then brushed against his flesh, signaling Rogue to act. With quick action, the beast lightened and jumped – sailing in the air a few meters from the earth and catching the team by surprise. The sudden move threw the blonde and brunette off course, their cables snagging the backs of the titan's heels. Before the two could fly further, Rogue's free hand reached around his backside and grasped the men's overlapping cables and pulled the two from their task. Rogue then hit the earth, ground trembling as the sheer force of his feet produced craters. Not bothering to take the time to listen to the two's sounds of distress, Rogue swung the two like dolls, yanking their hawsers beyond use and causing the men to roll and overturn against the forest's mossy and grassy floor – leaving them battered but amazingly alive with minimal injury. Feral greens then shot to the other three flying humans, waiting for them to make their next move.
"Fuck! He knew we were aiming low!" The arrogant human announced. "Fine! Let's see how well you can guess my movements!" The man challenged, circling around the clearing to execute his first attempt. Quickly, Rogue returned his trapped hand to his jaws to cut the cables again, some that were stronger than what he was familiar with. The titan pulled at his steel binds, managing to yank a single wire off before the arrogant man came inches from his frame. Again, Rogue protected his vital spot, eyes searching for the arrogant man. Suddenly, the human shot from behind his head, heading for another tree before him in order to engage in a punishing maneuver. However, the flying human had made a grave mistake, leaving his other cable still imbedded in the tree behind the beast. With the golden opportunity at hand, Rogue then grasped the cable and freed it roughly from the bark. The titan, without hesitation, swung the steel line with the man gasping in fright as he cast the human skyward, like a worm on a fishing line. Like many of the others before him, the egotistical male was entangled in his own lifeline and leaves – a barrage of insults leaving his lips, only falling death onto Rogue's ears.
"He's using the cables of our gear to his advantage!" The redhead exclaimed.
Rogue hastily returned to his trapped hand, able to chew away two of the wires – close to the point of freeing himself. Again, before he could rid the netting from his body, the female of the group had successfully swooped around his left shoulder and waist – aiming to restrain further arm movement. To the titan's incredible luck, Rogue quickly trapped the cable between his teeth, pulling the redhead in an almost violent manner and snapping the cable in two. The frightened woman screamed for mercy as the earth came closer to her petite frame. Surprisingly still possessing a bit of sympathy for the redhead, Rogue quickly took hold of her broken cable. Next, he simply sat her down, although not in the gentlest of manners by any means, but out of the way at least. Rogue did not pause to consider his slightly pitiful gesture, but instead he met eye to eye with the Short Leader.
Now was where he would have to imply any once of skill he had.
Rogue growled low in his throat, shoulders hunched and emerald hues wild with anger and determination as they met the man's cold steel irises. The atmosphere grew heavy and tense at the standoff rapidly heading toward them.
"Levi! Watch your cables! He'll grab them any chance he gets!" The arrogant man warmed from the canopy.
'LEVI.' The titan thought. So this was the short man's name. The title of the man that he had always feared the most. The very man that had astounded him with his skill at a distance. Rogue's eyes narrowed further in insolence. This was the human that he had to beat. He had to win.
Before Rogue could think a single thought further, the short soldier dived, speed so tremendous that the form of the man was nothing but a blur. Not even blinking, the man, this Levi, has vanished from his sight. Rogue screeched in fright, there was no way he would ever be able to snag his target's wires with only a single hand to work with. With the idea that the flying humans' goal was to capture him for their own purposes, Rogue lifted his wrapped fist from his nape and savagely began to tear at the remaining binds of the net, opposite hand outstretched in ready position. Turing in search of his hunter, the titan caught sight of Levi again – the minuscule human purely a smudge upon the forest canvas at the rate of speed the being traveled. Before he could snap the remaining cables on the net, Rogue looked up just in time to see the short leader spin around his shoulder and circling his waist – vanishing again in the blink of his shadowed eyes. Steel cables cut deep into his skin, producing a wail of aggravation and agony. Now furious and terrified, Rogue searched for his target once more. Wind rippled against his hot flesh as Levi circled his immense frame for the second time. With the slight flash of movement, the titan swiped only to catch nothing but thin air.
Angry, Rogue took a step in advance, lifting the tangled netting to his jaws again. Before he could free his hand, pain stung and slid across his arm and chest, pinning his only available way of defending himself to his chest. Rogue's eyes widened in terror at the sight of what was once his free arm now pressed flat against his breast. Boiling with rage, the titan roared, announcing his displeasure to every surrounding witness. He was not going to go down! Not here! Not now! Rogue then latched onto the encasing wires again, seconds away from a chance.
But seconds were too late.
Cable suddenly cut into the titan's ankle, making the titan stumble and struggle to stay upright. Before he roared another bout of frustration, cable rapidly ran up behind his other ankle, causing Rogue to fall backwards to the unforgivable earth – his teeth finally snapping the net. The beast landed harshly upon the mossy landscape, making tremors that shook every bone and root around him. Desperate and on the verge of crying in defeat, Rogue forced his head to turn to his opponent – seeing him gently sailing toward him in a manner that felt very much like a mocking one.
"Humph, and for a moment I thought you would be harder to take down."
The creature's eyes narrowed, brow furrowing and mouth contorting into a snarl. With the knowledge of how to understand the short man's words, the very comment sent him over the edge. With a monstrous bellow, Rogue quickly threw out his free arm – releasing the open net at full force. For the first time in the titan's knowledge the man, Levi, was too slow to react. The steel webbing wrapped around the small man's body and sent him tumbling and rolling like a sack of potatoes across the compact clearing.
For several moments, every soul was stunned as they looked on in sheer bewilderment, listening to the man's moans of distress. Rogue blinked, finding himself amazed at his difficult accomplishment. He couldn't believe it. He had beaten the strongest soldier in the flying human pack. Feeling his frustrations return as his eyes witnessed Levi squirm in search of an escape, Rogue released another threatening hiss – stilling all life around him. Wide and horrified orbs watched as the titan quickly sat up and lifted itself back to his feet. With a simple but effective bulge and flex of the titan's powerful muscles, the constricting cables snapped and fell to the beast's feet as Rogue intimidatingly prowled to his own capture.
The titan ignored their pleas as he covered his nape and knelt to the net, Rogue's face reflecting the look of augmentation and almost triumph. None that was able, dared to make a move as the creature lifted the net from the ground, examining it for a moment before holding the steel cradle to a branch that was as tall at the titan himself. Rogue continued to look at his defeated adversary, face twisting up into complete annoyance.
Levi groaned. "What the fuck do you think you're doing brat?"
Rogue disregarded the trapped individual as he focused on the remaining wires of the net. The titan then began to wrap said cables around the thick tree limb, ears flickering at the sound of the short leader's growls - ones that were nothing but pitiful to him.
"What are you doing you stupid fuck? Put me the hell down." The titan's victim snarled, eyes flickering dangerously.
Hearing the vile insult, Rogue halted his task to loudly hiss at Levi – the man cringing at the smell of his breath, one that had a scent of his kin's carrion. Satisfied, Rogue returned his attention his current job of ensuring that the man couldn't free himself. The titan hesitated slightly as he took the two pairs of cables between his fingers and thumbs, trying to recall how his little ones had made those things that they called 'knots' for the 'ladder' that they had built long ago. Rogue then began to interlace and weave the cables over and under one another, trying to make his attempt worth it.
"You are so damn lucky that I was unable to use –
The man only stalled as the titan was finally able to tie a correct knot, green eyes scrutinizing his work before returning this Levi that he had the displeasure of ever meeting.
What Rogue did next, produced a sharp gasp of shock from nearly every soldier.
To get his point across to the man known as Levi, the titan held up his middle finger on display for the small-statured leader's eyes to behold. To his pleasure, Levi's brows rose and eyes widened slightly, the first true expression besides a scowl that Rogue had seen from the man – figuring that it wasn't a common occurrence that anyone had given this gesture to the man let alone from a titan. For a few more gratifying seconds, Rogue held the bird before the face of his adversary before slowly moving his arm to show the surrounding victims of his cunning the same thing. Once he was sure that all had gotten his message to 'fuck off' Rogue placed his attention back to Levi, crossing his muscular arms and a smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth. With a smug snort of steam, the creature left his defiant stance and charged back into the forest, laughing as he did so.
His head throbbed, already welting up a bit beneath his stabilizing palm. Levi swore beneath his breath, feeling completely mortified. In all of his years as a Corporal and soldier in the Scouts, a titan had never outmaneuvered him.
Not only had he been caught completely off guard, but also he was seething with anger at this much different defeat. The putrid stench of the titan's breath still hung in his nostrils, his skull was pounding, he was trapped at least fourteen meters up from the forest floor, and the crude image of The Rogue's middle finger before his face was welded to his mind.
He felt so stupid, especially in the presence of his allies. Although they were in a very similar state, he still felt utterly humiliated.
"Well now! How's it hanging up there, Levi?"
Recognizing just who had dared to let the mocking phrase slip from their mouth, the Corporal looked down to see Hange, Mike, and Erwin arrive in the center of the clearing – the three somehow managing to remain operative to his embarrassment. "Shut the fuck up and get me down!" Levi ordered angrily, only making the scientist laugh harder.
"I'd say our friend is quite talented! He managed to neutralize the infamous Levi Squad! Remarkable! It also looks like the stories of him flipping the Garrison off are true as well! What a clever creature!" Hange teased, going on about The Rogue as usual.
"Hange. Quit running your damn mouth and get your ass up here to help me." Levi grumbled, sick of everything.
"While you're at it, get me down as well!" Oluo called down to the able team. "My blood is rushing to my damn head!"
After nearly thirty minutes of several soldiers struggling to cut him and Oluo free, Levi joined the two other Section Commanders and the Commander at the forest floor, doing headcounts and rounding up what was salvageable.
"So what do you propose we do now?" Levi spoke, almost sarcastically to Erwin who was adjusting the saddle on his horse. "Do we try again in the morning?"
For a moment the Commander glared at the Corporal, blue eyes firm and brows sinking, showing the man's own mixture of disappointment and irritation. Erwin then glanced in the direction that the titan had gone before heaving a heavy sigh. "No."
"At this point, we are unable to proceed with the initial capture mission. Nearly all of our recruits have inoperable cables or broken maneuver gear thanks to The Rogue Titan's actions."
"So we're retreating to the nearest storehouse then?" Levi questioned, wondering just how many soldiers had ended up entangled in their own gear.
"No. We return to Katness district. Any cable we can get from the depots or any that we have on hand are too weak. Any of the shots or other anchors are too light. The Rogue may be a fifteen-meter, but he's far stronger than a standard one. Even if you were able to restrain him, the titan would have easily broke free. And of course, the titan also showed more of his intelligence with techniques we've never encountered before – including his message to you and the rest of the Scouts." Erwin paused, mounting his horse before returning to Levi. "We retreat behind the walls and return to headquarters. We need to rethink everything."
The warmth of the tea in her hands warmed her palms deep past the skin, soothing the tired joints in her hands. Exhaustion sat in her entire frame. Hange's muscles ached deep into her tendons, same for the rest of the Scouts. The journey back from Maria was a tiresome and disappointing one. With The Rogue's damage to their gear, it had taken them a whole day to get to a safe house – their only means of travel horseback, which wasn't the safest without something to rely on. Of course, the other aspect of the journey was the awful feeling of leaving empty handed. Hange was in complete awe at the titan's skill and cunning. Never did she think The Rouge would pull such stunts. Capable? Yes. Perhaps the creature was smarter than she had previously predicted. But more so, how did it learn what it knew? The question had been a brainteaser since day one for Hange. It truly bothered her to not know. If only they could catch The Rogue Titan to solve all the mysteries. If only the creature knew that they weren't going to harm him.
Deep down, she hoped that they would never have to draw their blades.
Hange then lifted the cup to her lips, savoring the hot tea as she examined her surroundings and listened to the other higher ups strategize. They sat at a wooden table outside a popular eatery and pub, a busy one in the center of Katness district. The Scouts had frequented the place in the past for they had quite a few free benefits due to their status as soldiers – a longtime relationship. It wasn't the best place, but it nourished so it was good enough. Tired and aggravated with the failed initial attempt, most of the Scouts were sitting around indulging on whiskey and beer – something that Hange herself desperately wanted. However, she needed her mind to be clear to think so fresh hot tea was a good substitute – the other higher ups cossetting on the same thing with the similar side of garlic bread and steaming soup.
"We need to formulate a new strategy." Erwin spoke, exhaustion sprinkled within his tone. "Four days ago was just a sampling of what The Rogue was capable of. Who knows what else he can do."
"You're right." Levi sighed, picking up his cup of black tea in his strange way of doing so, grasping the lip and tilting the cup to his own set. "How soon do you think we can resume operations?"
The Commander dithered. "I'm afraid it could be at least two weeks before we make a second attempt. Even so, I'm not even sure our most durable cables can even hold him. Thus, I'm contacting Zackley for a bit more aid."
The Corporal took the glass from his thin lips, ever so slightly raising a brow in question. "What?"
"I say that because I believe it would be wise if we were given a higher grade steel and gage of cable so the titan can't break free or bite through it. Not only that, but we need heavier barrel shots and barb cannons, he just tossed ours like toys. The only downfall of that is more horses will be needed to pull the weapons wagons with the added mass. We may even have to make entirely new weapons and traps. With such a list of necessities, it will take more time just to produce those things and receive them. Which means Zackley will also have to extend our deadline by at least another month."
The shorter man then unceremoniously placed his tea back to his saucer. "Shit, this brat is not only a pain in the ass but expensive."
"Unfortunately. I also hope that it doesn't resort to brutal force. That's a last resort that I want to avoid at all costs."
Hange exhaled, growing more depressed at the Commander's statement. It would be a while before she could be able to experiment on the incredible titan –if she ever could. The scientist then let her gaze travel around the area of the eatery and street, looking at the variety of sights to see. It was a sunny and pleasant day, one that had lured most people from their homes to play or work, mostly work. Men lifted crates and merchants sold goods, a common sight on a sunny day in Katness. Hange's eyes then fell on the table neighboring theirs. Seated and eating their meal was a mother and her two children. One was a rowdy boy with brown hair and a chipped tooth that looked to be around six years old. The other child was a small blonde girl with her hair puled into two low pigtails that appeared to be the younger sibling – maybe four years old. Hange found herself scrutinizing closer, spotting something that made her mouth slightly become agate and had her doing a double take.
In one of the girl's arms was a doll. It wasn't extravagant by any means like she had seen some girls in Wall Sina carry, but rather one that was handmade from closely woven and tan burlap. The doll's hair was made from chocolate colored horsehair and its body was shaped a bit like a gingerbread man, arms and legs short stubs with a round head. The thing that had caught Hange's interest was not how plain the doll was with a lack of any sort of clothes, but what or rather whom the doll was made to look like. Its eyes were made up of two bright green buttons and its mouth was painted on – teeth exposed and split into two rows. The doll's ears were included as well, pointed elf like extremities jutting out from the horsehair. A smile came to Hange's face as she casually left her seat to join the mother and her two children, eager to know more.
The woman looked up from her meal as she approached their table, Hange putting on the kindest expression she could emit. The two siblings followed the mother's reaction as well, the girl hugging the doll closer to her body.
"Hello there, my name is Hange Zoe." The scientist grinned. "Do you mind if I set with you for a moment?"
To her relief, the woman beamed warmly. "We don't mind. Please join us Miss Zoe!"
Hange then nodded in thanks and took her seat, trying not to loose herself in her excitement. Sure, her subordinates were used to her personality, but regular citizens would only grow uncomfortable. "So, what is your daughter's name?" Hange asked politely, waiting as patiently as she could.
"This is Ellie." The woman gestured to the girl who seemed to have broken out of whatever shy spell she was in and smiled at Hange. "Why don't you say hello to the nice Survey Corps woman?"
"Hi!" the small girl greeted, turning her attention to her doll. "Why don't you say hi, too?" She addressed it, making it wave its stump of a hand. The Section Commander smiled and waved back, eager to continue with a conversation.
"It's nice to meet you Ellie." Hange began kindly. "I was just having a cup of tea and I couldn't help but to notice your cute little doll. Could you tell me more about it?"
Ellie nodded enthusiastically. "Mommy made him for me. His name is Roguey! He's The Rogue Titan! The friendly titan that saved us!"
Hange could not help but let her smile grow bigger. "Is he now? So do you like The Rogue Titan?"
Ellie answered with another dip of her head and hugged the doll very tight. Her brother then became enthused at the mention of the titan.
"Yeah! He's amazing! The Rogue killed like a billion titans at Trost!" The boy spoke as he gestured prominently, throwing his hands in the air to emphasize the greatness of the number. We watched him save us!"
"Did you now?"
Ellie nodded. "Yeah we saw him kill other titans and put the big rock in the wall!"
"Yeah! The Rogue Titan's roars were so loud that they shattered all the windows in our house and vibrated the ground! He sounded like this!" The young boy began as he stood from his seat. Hange watched in amusement as the boy inhaled strongly and puffed out his chest to look bigger than he was. The boy then clenched his hands into fists and locked them to his side before letting out a loud attempt at the beast's roar, getting a few of the higher ups attention and many other's at the close by tables. Hange laughed. The boy's roar was a bit pitiful, nowhere near as booming and menacing as the real thing. The boy then climbed from his seat and began to play in the street, terrorizing a nearby stray cat with his Rogue Titan act. Seeing her brother's antics, Ellie left her seat to join him, carrying Roguey in hand.
For a moment, Hange continued to observe the two children play until she turned to their mother. "So, you saw The Rogue Titan in the flesh huh?"
She nodded. "Oh yes. It's quite a long story but I'll abbreviate it. Unfortunately our house was near the breach so we couldn't get out in time to escape when the titans arrived, so we took refuge and hoped for some sort of miracle. That came in the form of The Rogue Titan. The three of us watched him kill a few titans with little effort and then we saw him plug the breach. Since then, those two haven't stopped talking about him. As you could see, Ellie even wanted a doll of the titan."
"I see," Hange replied as the two children continued to play. "That's amazing."
"Miss, can I ask you something?" The woman queried, suddenly a bit more serious.
"Okay. Is The Rogue as friendly as the media says? You're a Scout that knows the titan firsthand so I figured I could ask you."
The scientist nodded. "Yes, he's not what he seems. His face may be as ugly and terrifying as sin, but he's just like a big kid almost, a mischievous kid. Whenever he can, he likes to steal and play with our pillows and mattresses in our depots."
The mother smiled. "Ah, I see. I know the Scouts plan on catching him to make him a member of the corps, but I have to ask. Are you – going to hurt him in the process?"
Hange stalled slightly. Thinking of their mission and all that had gone wrong with it. Hopefully, the Scouts would never have to resort to such measures. Hopefully. "No. We are doing everything in our power to not resort to that. We are being as careful as possible, Mam."
The woman nodded in approval. "Ah yes, I do hope not. A lot of people from Trost look to him as a hero, my children included. If anyone can bring him back it's the Scouts. I wish you luck."
Hange nodded in thanks just as the familiar rolling of wooded wheels attracted her attention. Excusing herself, Hange then returned to her position next to the first and second in command. The four higher ups looked on as a horse drawn carriage came to stop before them. The wagon wasn't a common one, more luxurious with bronze accents and glossy black paint. The carriage door then opened to reveal Commander Pixis and another blonde soldier. The elderly man didn't look as spirited as usual, more serious with creases on his brow and his mouth a grim line. Worry then began to settle beneath her skin. Pixis wasn't known to do such a thing, leaving his post at this time a day.
"Commander Pixis?" Erwin questioned as he put down his tea. "What brings you here?"
Pixis cleared his throat without hesitation as the blonde Garrison soldier came to his side. "I apologize for the intrusion. I heard about the outcome of your mission and the hard journey back so I hate to bother you. However, I need to speak with you. There is some information that Cadet Hannes here has disclosed to me that you need to know."
Nearly every higher up at the table raised their brows, Hange more so. What could these two know that the Scouts did not?
"What is it, Commander?" Erwin asked as he rose from his seat. "Is it about our target?"
Pixis nodded. "Yes. Shall we all retire to a more private venue?"
The conference room at the Garrison headquarters was a large and plain one. A long rectangular table sat in its center, polished wood surface reflecting the rest of the room's features such as the simple stained glass windows and bookshelves. Besides the clean table, everything else in the room had a thin layer of dust over it – making Levi a bit uncomfortable in his seat. Hange sat next to Mike as they looked at Pixis and Hannes, an older solder as well with short blond hair and a few hints of stubble on his chin and above his top lip. The man looked the part of a typical Garrison soldier that secretly indulged on alcohol on duty, but now Hannes only looked uneasy and nervous. Whatever the man had to say had to be substantial. Hange was inwardly screaming for him to begin.
"As I said, this is Cadet Hannes. He's a survivor from the first breach five years ago. He was present from when the Colossal Titan kicked in the wall to the Armored Titan's charge. Last night, over a bit of whiskey, Hannes told me a story that he kept secret since that day. You need to hear it. Although it's hard to believe, if may answer all of your questions you haven't solved about The Rogue."
Erwin leaned forward, resting his elbows on the polished table with a palm placed under his chin in interest. "Really? What happened Mr. Hannes? What did you see?"
The man let out a deep sigh. "Alright. I kept quiet about this for years. I figured if I told anyone they would call me a drunk and refuse to believe me. But in light of the recent events, I feel that I need to tell you what I saw. On that day – I was stationed at the bottom of the wall within Shiganshina. When The Rogue Titan arrived and didn't attack us, I gave into curiosity and followed it from a respectable distance. Now, at the time I did have a cup of beer in my system, but I was level headed enough to know what I saw was real."
"What did you see?"
Hannes bit his lip. "I hope you believe me on this, but just before the I saw the thing attack another titan I noticed something that made me do a double take. At the time I couldn't believe what I was looking at was real." Hannes paused, swallowing back a wad of saliva. "On The Rogue Titan's shoulder and tangled in the titan's hair behind his ears when he fought – were two small children."
The room grew deathly silent, eyes wide and hooked onto the fretful soldier who was now sweating. Hange's heart began to pound relentlessly. Had she heard him right? There were really two little kids riding a fearsome fifteen-meter titan let alone The Rogue himself? Really? Willing or forced, she was immediately a bit jealous, but she was more spellbound than anything. She had to know more!
"What?" Erwin nearly stammered. "Two children were with him? Tell me everything that you know." He demanded. "Did it look like some sort of hostage situation?"
"Don't leave out any details either." Levi added.
Hannes quickly dismissed them with a negative nod. "No, it wasn't any sort of kidnapping. Those two children, it was obvious that they knew that titan and it knew them as well. They spoke to it and calmed it down after its outburst. Yes, it was no hostage situation. When the titan began to leave the district, the children looked more than willing to go with it rather than follow the other refugees. They vanished into the forest and I don't know much more than that."
"How old were the kids?" Mike asked. "What did they look like?"
The Garrison soldier rubbed his neck. "My memory isn't the best with people, but I do remember that it was a little boy and girl. One had blonde hair while the other's was black. They looked to be about ten years old."
The Scout's Commander set back in awe at the news. "Incredible. It's possible now that those children could be survivors in Wall Maria."
"If they're alive, they have to be at least fifteen years old by now." Mike informed.
"And here I thought I'd seen and heard everything." The Corporal sighed pouring himself another glass of tea, surprisingly still calm despite the big news, on the outside at least.
The scientist herself was in a frozen state of shock, her mind buzzing. Suddenly, it all hit her like The Rogue's own fist crushing another titan's skull. "HOLY SHIT!" Hange exclaimed loudly as she leaped from her seat. "FUCK! THAT EXPLAINS EVERYTHING!" The enthusiastic woman laughed madly, producing a smirk from Pixis.
"I did say that the information could solve a few riddles didn't I?"
"HELL YES!" Hange replied turning to her subordinates. " Erwin, Mike, Levi – this is the missing piece to the puzzle! We were wrong about some of the titan's actions! I know what's going on now! FUCK THIS IS AMAZING!"
As she expected, Erwin's face reflected that of when he met the same realization that she did. "Now it's all clear…"
"Hange. Explain." Levi demanded. "You think this is the root to The Rogue's strange behavior?"
The scientist nearly squealed. "Yes! Allow me to illustrate! My goodness, where do I begin here? Okay, I'll start from the beginning, with the safe house raids! True, our specimen does have the entire child like curiosities that we've seen before. It's a natural aspect about him. As far as the reason as to why he broke in, it's not boredom but rather to gather things! He knows those children so he's protecting them and caring for them! The Rogue stole our food for them so he could nurture them! It's astounding! Parental instincts!" Hange paused to catch her breath. "It also explains the titan's knowledge of certain things. Who's to say that those children told the titan to cover his nape when around other humans, especially those in uniform? It's highly likely they even taught the titan to tie knots and the gesture of flipping the bird as well."
"What about it's knowledge of combat? I doubt that two tiny kids could have the know how of such techniques to teach The Rogue." Corporal Levi queried, showing more interest by the second.
Hange ran her fingers through her unkempt hair. "True, I don't think the children taught The Rogue those things. Perhaps they are already embedded into the titan's DNA. Of course, if all of this is real then the titan may be attacking its own kind just to protect them! As to why it doesn't attack other humans, it's smart enough to recognize and is used to human contact! The titan knows we are nearly defenseless against its kind! It protects those children so it feels the need to protect us as well! In fact, I believe these children may be why The Rogue Titan is purposely evading capture. He feels it's his duty to look out for that boy and girl so he refuses to leave them."
"You've got a point, Hange." Erwin began. "I guess this also proves the fact that the titan is capable of understanding the human language."
"It is!" Hange agreed, but then frowning as a thought made itself known, one that made her worry. "He's a defensive titan, really defensive. Even if we were able to get the message across somehow that we weren't going to harm him or his 'adopted babies' – I don't know if The Rogue would believe us, especially after our failed attempt. Mama bears are very protective of their young. He's no different."
"That's true. He's got a good reason now not to trust us." Mike sighed, leaning back lazily in his chair.
"Since this is certainly news to all of you, I'm guessing you now have another reason to go after The Rogue then?" Pixis spoke as he opened his flask of whiskey once again for the fifth time since they had begun talking.
Erwin folded his arms, large brows returning to their usual position upon his face. "Yes, but only if this is true. The only solid proof we have is your word. If what you say is fact, then the titan must be keeping them wherever it resides in its territory. On the next mission we would have to search or try to find clues as to where that location is. But as I said, we don't know how true this is, so we can only play it by ear and see what the titan's next move is. This does however, seem highly likely."
"Even if that was true," Levi added. "There is also the change that those kids didn't survive due to whatever reason. If you recall, there have not been any raids on the depots in the past three years. But like most of you, I would prefer the other theory."
Hange sighed heavily in exasperation, listening to the conversation at hand. It was astounding to her that this was an incredible possibility, a true miracle that two children had befriended one of the most dangerous monsters imaginable. Desperately, did Hange want to believe that the story was true. As always, she wanted to know how and why. However, in light of the unbelievable revelation, the information only seemed to spawn more questions than ever before.