Episode 1: The Fall
Blood, so much blood, grotesque faces with gaping maws. Giants, legions of giants descending on the tranquil and hailing living bodies from the rubble for consumption-
“Nora-c’mon wakeup” A voice impatiently hovered overhead, driving away any remnants of the images. Her older brother’s ever-cheery face blocked view of the sky
“Pease don’t wake me up like that, it’s creepy” Nora pulled herself up for the ground with Kurtz’s proffered hand. They were under the snarled old oak tree, that shaded half their garden. It was unusual to have much of a garden in Shiganshina, as packed as it was, but the Argmann family was one of the richest in the district with Yosef Argmann, Nora and Kurtz’s uncle, being governor.
“But their leaving today, and you didn’t seem to be enjoying your nap very much”
“I wasn’t? I can’t remember…” Nora scrunched her brows and stared off in space “I think there were giants, maybe or they could just have been fat naked men”
Kurtz laughed, “Either way I pity you, seriously though we have to get a move on, Survey Corps is leaving at 3 and it’s already 2:25, Marnie says getting to the Gate is going to be a nightmare this time of day” Marnie was their maid/governess/foster-mother, she was their only staff, their parents having told Uncle Yosef that under no circumstances were the children to be spoiled. She was strict and an absolute clean-freak but deep, deep, deep down she longed to be a little old woman baking and knitting all the time and pinching people’s cheeks, Nora could just tell.
“Okay, let’s go” Nora said as she pulled on her shoes on by the front door, and hurriedly pulling a brush through her messy dark blonde hair “Remember, we need to pick up Raph and Greta” They were the Argmann’s two closest friends, it was slightly odd that they shared friends as siblings, but then they had always been too close to keep any aspect of their lives completely separate.
“Yeah, it’s fine though, they’re on the way” With that they jogged off down the hill, narrowly avoiding passers-by. One lady muttered something under breath and all Nora caught was ‘-these days”
After a few minutes they got to Raph’s house, it wasn’t the kind of place you could miss. Raph’s family were a blacksmiths and their house sat right next to the forge. Kurtz glanced to Nora, “I’ll knock. You wait here”
Raph emerged after a moment, looking as burly as always. His complexion was darker than most people’s, apparently it was his family came from somewhere to the south call ‘Spain’. People who looked unusual like that were rare but they tended to stick together in communities; Raph’s street was full of ‘Spainish’ people.
“Raphael, you’re not going out are you?” Mrs Sarrano’s voice boomed; that woman had quite a pair of lungs “You said you’d help out your father, today”
“No, Jorge did” Raph didn’t seem angry, just a bit resigned. He and Jorge were twins and looked so similar even Mrs Sarrano sometimes got them mixed up. Nora always wondered why Raph didn’t just get a crazy hairstyle or something, but he’d just shrugged when asked
“Really, oh right…” Voice went sheepish “sorry Honey, just promise to be back by 8, friends are coming for dinner” ‘Spainish’ people had dinner really late, it was odd, Nora was always too sleepy to eat by then.
“Bye then, have fun and tell Nora and Kurtz to come round for dinner soon, okay? They’re far too thin”
We aren’t that thin, thought Nora grumpily, the Sarrano’s were just built like bulls. In truth the Argmanns were in the skinny side, not matter how much Marnie fed them they just resisted putting on any weight. This, combined with Kurtz’s being a very tall 18-year-old, made him look like a stick-person. Nora was luckier though; she got more from her mother’s side, being slightly below average for her 16 years and avoiding looking as lanky as Kurtz did
“Bye” Raph told his mother and strode towards them, he greeted them in characteristically few words and they set off down the street, towards Greta’s house.
Picking her up was quicker, Greta just lived with her father and he never paid much attention to her comings and goings. She emerged with her untameable red hair as wild as always. It always curly but very long nonetheless, Nora imagined a strand would stretch to her ankles if pulled straight. She had her well-worn sketchbook in toe; she had a thing for art, mainly landscapes and portraits.
“Hello everybody” For a girl with such obnoxious hair Greta had the personality of a mouse; the only time Nora could remember Greta complaining it had been about the attention her hair brought her. However, like Raph, she resisted when Nora suggested she cut it.
Kurtz glanced down at his watch impatiently “Hey Grets, you look ravishing as usual”
He smiled at her and Nora swore Greta’s cheeks went as red as her hair. Kurtz was an incorrigible flirt and Greta was the only girl too meek to tell him to piss off. Plus, Nora had a suspicion the red-head secretly liked her brothers flirting…
Kurtz glanced at his watch “Guys, it’s like 10 to 3, we have to get a move on”
With that the four of them shot down the hill. One of the great things about living in a district was that it was hard to get lost; looking up at the Walls could tell you what direction things were in.
They followed the road, jogging past the onlookers gathering on either side of the throughway and squeezed themselves between the crowd and the Wall. They’d arrived just in time, a blond man on horseback it the Survey Corps green clock riding towards them, followed by a line of his subordinates.
“That’s Commander Erwin Smith, he’s a genius, I heard some Garrison troops muttering about his scouting formations and it sounded soo cool” Nora muttered to the others, Kurtz elbowed her in the side
“Only you could find that stuff ‘cool’, look there’s Corporal Levi” Kurtz gestured to a severe man, riding of the left flank of his Commander. It was very difficult to age him; he was short and lithe but Nora thought his face was far too grave to he that of a young man. Kurtz continued, “More Titan kills than anyone else in Survey Corps, probably more than anyone else alive. They say he’s both 100 solders”
“Wow” Murmured Greta, Nora looked to see her studying the scene with her artist’s eyes, she should of guessed Grets would want to paint this scene later
“What’s Corporal Levi’s surname?” Nora asked Kurtz
“Dunno.” Kurtz looked both puzzled at her asking and annoyed that he didn’t know the answer “I don’t think anyone knows, people just call him as ‘Corporal Levi’, does it matter though?”
Nora shrugged, “Whose the woman to his left?” She gestured
“Hanji Zoe, she’s a scientist or something. The person to his right is Herman Korkov” They all looked to see who Kurtz was referring to, not that it was hard. Korkov was a mountain of a man towering over every other officer even on horseback. He looked iconic next to Corporal Levi; the broad grin on Korkov’s made him infinitely less scary than his short superior. “I heard he killed 3 Titans without leaving the ground one time when he ran out of gas”
Nora looked sceptical “How is that even possible?”
All she got in reply was a shrug
Just as the Commander reached the gate Nora saw Hanji Zoe prod the Corporal and gesture over to them, or more specifically Kurtz and her, then mutter something to him. She looked away as the Corporal’s eyes dissected them. It made her feel like an insect, why were they staring at them? She bit her lip nervously; had she seen a flicker of recognition in the woman’s eyes? Nora raised her eyes just in time to see the Corporal scoff and look forward, Nora winced, what had he seen that was scoff worthy?
“Did you see that?” She asked her friends, they all looked confused (well, Raph shrugged, he wasn’t an expressive person)
Greta scrunched her brows in concern “What was it?”
“Nothing, don’t worry I’ll tell you later” Maybe, it wasn’t them Hanji pointed at? But that seemed doubtful as well, there was nothing else outstanding around them, Greta and Raph both looked distinctive but they were hardly point-worthy. Nora decided Zoe must be one of those few people politically savvy enough to know they were related to Uncle Yosef.
They watched as Survey Corps filled out of the gate, and thrust it to the back of her mind.
2 Weeks Later
It was Saturday, a warm September day. Her, Kurtz, Raph and Greta were lounging around on the river embankment. Greta had to take cover in the shade of willow tree; her fair skin was all too easily burnt. As always she was being artsy, applying the finishing touches to her drawing of the departing Survey Corps
Unusually, it was Raph that broke the silence, looking to Nora and Kurtz, “You two are joining the Military soon, and then Survey Corps, aren’t you?”
The Argmann siblings looked to each other “Yeah” “’Course” Kurtz continued “We’ve waited to this year ‘cose, so that we could join together” Nora smiled at her brother, Kurtz had chosen to delay his career two whole years, just for her.
Raph sighed forlornly “Are you sure?”
“Yes we are, look we know what we’re getting ourselves in for, alright? We’ve watched people come back, we know all the statistics” Nora replied defensively, all too familiar with the condescending speeches about their chosen career path
It was Greta who replied “But why? Most recruits to Survey Corps don’t make it a year, why are you taking the risk? Neither if you have even seen a Titan, they haven’t done anything to you to warrant a death wish” Greta was pleading
Kurtz and Nora looked to each other, unsure, Normally, they would have snapped at anyone who doubted their resolve but you just couldn’t do that with Grets without feeling like you’d kicked a puppy.
“Grets” Kurtz said softly “We’ve already decided. You say they haven’t done anything to us but they have, because of them we’re herded inside these walls like animals. They’ve eaten millions Grets, it doesn’t matter if we didn’t know any of them we can’t just ignore that”
“I don’t care” Grets said bitterly, “I don’t care about the Walls, I don’t care about the past, I just can’t bare the thought of you two throwing away you’re lives. My mother died from the Titans and she wasn’t even in Survey Corps, just mending the Wall. She just left guys, it was like she never existed, her death meant nothing and yours won’t either” The last part she shouted, stunning them all. There were two rules about Greta; she didn’t shout and she didn’t mention her mother. She’d just broken both of them and nobody knew how to react. At their silence, Greta huffily packed up and ran away, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Kurtz shot after her and Raph and Nora followed suit, Raph looked a bit guilty, Nora imagined she felt guilty about starting the argument in the first place. Raph didn’t talk much and Nora knew it was because he despised confrontation, for all his muscle and stoicism Raph was a thoroughly nice guy
They followed Greta south towards the Walls, weaving south through the packed streets and alleyways until they caught up with her barely 10 meters from the Wall. Kurtz had the advantage of long-limbs and a runners shape.
“Grets stop, please” He pleaded as they came to a stop “I didn’t know about your mother, I wouldn’t of said it like that, c’mon please look at me” She finally met his eyes and Kurtz enveloped her into a hug. Raph and Nora looked away, it felt like a private moment and they both felt a bit awkward about being there.
“You’ll die Kurtz, you’ll be just like she is and I’ll end up like my dad, drinking my life away to forget you” Greta mumbled into Kurtz’s shirt, making it difficult to hear her.
“You could never be like him” Kurtz said sternly, pointedly avoiding the mention of his death, there was nothing he could say to change the reality of being in Survey Corps
Greta snorted bitterly but remained quiet. Kurtz looked to his sister “D’ya think Marnie would mind-“
The sky flashed red-orange for a moment and they heard and saw the crack of lighting, although it hit the ground beyond the Wall
They each looked up to the sky. Nora thought it was bizarre, the wind was gentle and the clouds looked mundane, how could their be lightning in this weather?
Suddenly Kurtz shouted pointing to the Wall, “Is that a hand?”
Nora followed pointing to the top of the wall and sure enough and blood red hand was clamped over the top of the wall
Greta whispered in shock “A Titan…”
They were blown back as Wall Maria exploded; Nora’s world spun as debris slammed into her stomach, forcing all the air out of her body. The debris had been a piece of roof shingle the size of her fist, it tore into her skin, leaving a gash the length of her foot across her stomach. The pain was unbearable.
“Nora!” Cried her brother at the sight of her
Raph recovered first, heaving her winded body onto his shoulders “Run. We have to go north”
“No” Nora wheezed, “To the river, they’ll use the boats to evacuate” It was in one of her many books on military procedure
Nora looked to see up to see the gigantic Titan gone, and, to her horror, confirm Raph’s words as the first Titan walked into Shiganshina
They scrambled up, Kurtz had to drag Greta along, she was too shell-shocked to think straight.
They ran until they’re legs gave out ten minutes late. They were close now, Nora thought dazedly, just a few more minutes to the river then a little upstream. Wheezing and puffing they tried desperately to hold their breath while Nora clenched a hand to her side to stop the bleeding.
They’d come to a stop in a narrow alleyway, just wide enough for two men should-to-shoulder.
“It’s over, Titan’s have breached the Wall, Shiganshina is over” Greta lamented, hands wrapped around her torso as if to hold herself together.
“What about our families?” Asked Raph, looking to them.
Kurtz shook his head, “We just have to run, chances are they’re already among the crowds, we won’t be able to find them in this chaos”
“And if they’re not?” He asked monotonously
“We can’t think about that now” Nora replied, fight off images of Marnie’s face contorted in agony “we have to hold it together
“Right w-“ Whatever Kurtz was going to say died on his lips as the sun was suddenly blocked out.
For the briefest of moments I looked up into the grinning face of a Titan. It grinned madly and for a moment Nora felt like a toy in a box about to be played with, a child grinning down at Her. The narrow alleyway had gone from safety to a cage.
They scramble to the feet and ran, her pushing down the pain in her side. She could hear her everybody to her side except…
Kurtz. Where was Kurtz?
She ground to a stop, the others following suit soon after, “Kurtz? Kurtz?” She cried in panic for a moment her eyes searching madly for him. Eventually, see found him, but what she saw made her blood run cold
The Titan had him dangling by the leg in his vast hands. She watched, helpless as it slowly raised her brother to its maw.
Nora thought she heard her name before the Titan’s teeth sawed her brother in half.
“Kurtz” She chanted his name like a mantra, unable to move.
For the second time Raph picked her up and ran. “Greta, we have to go”
To her credit, Greta did not seize up but instead ran away at full pelt, following after Raph. Nora was in too much shock and pain to think, except wallow in a single fact. Her brother, who she shared everything with, was gone, how would life function without him? How could he not be there? His dying scream echoed in her ears round and around. Finally, something snapped in her head and a single fact became as clear as the blue of Kurtz’s eyes.
She was alone.
Episode 2: The Aftershock
Nora and Greta huddled into Raph’s sides. Neither spoke, wallowing in grief or, in Raph’s case, worry. They were on the deck of an evacuation ship, and could hear the screams of those begging to get on the barge. They’d managed to arrive before the crowd had gathered. Once on board, Nora tore a strip off her shirt and wrapped it around her torso, compressing the wound. She wasn’t sure she did it right, she’d read about wrapping up wounds in her fiction books at home. She just knew that she was bleeding too much.
She did it all on autopilot, barely aware of the world. Kurtz was gone, that was all she could think, over and over. His pained death-wail rang in her ears and played before her eyes. She’d kill them, she’d kill them all, she’d kill every last one. She’d kill them in Survey Corps.
As odd as it sounded, she’d never given much thought to the Titans themselves before. They’d wanted to join Survey Corps to help humanity and provide hope and, of course, they knew that involved killing them but rage against the Titans had never really propelled them. But everything had changed, she no longer cared about humanity or hope, she just wanted them to die and Survey Corps was the best vehicle for that.
Suddenly, screaming intensified and Nora looked up to see that Garrison solders had pulled up the bridge. People were jumping across the gap between the barge and the embankment to get on; some made it and were being pulled on-board but others didn’t, she could hear them thrashing in the water and screaming. She thought distantly that the ones that fell would probably die; very few could swim and there was too much chaos to fish them out.
They barge departed and she settled back into Raph’s familiar side. Underneath the mass of grief she felt immensely grateful to her friend. He’d saved her life twice in the last day and was a pillar for her to lean on. Nora could barely stand to look at Greta, she’d heard her crying, for the last half-an-hour, heard her sobbing into her sleeve. It wasn’t anger; she just couldn’t cope with her own grief let alone her friend’s.
Another crash shuddered through the air causing her to look up. A familiar sense of dread washed over her; Wall Maria had been breached. A Titan stood in front of the gaping hole where the back-gate of Shiganshina once stood. It was odd, parts of its body lacked skin, like the first Titan she’d seen. Through the gap in the wall she could see Titans about to pour through. How could this be happening? How could humanity survive this?
“I’ll kill them all” Nora said lowly, staring at the oncoming Titans while Both Raph and Greta stared at her “I’ll kill. Every. Last. One”
Screaming, she was screaming and struggling against someone’s hold. A needle, a key, it was her father; he wanted her to get somewhere. Where?
Nora awoke with someone was shaking her shoulder, Kurtz? No, she thought with a stab of pain, it couldn’t be him. It was Greta, her hair was even messier than usual, it stuck out on all sides like an explosion, it calmed Nora down to see the familiar sight.
“Nora, are you okay?” Greta pulled me up slightly, “You were crying in your sleep”
“My parents” She whispered in reply “I thought I saw my father…”
She looked confused, the Argmann siblings never rarely spoke about their parents, it wasn’t a taboo touchy subject, like Greta’s mother was, they just never came up. Greta was sure whatever Nora dreamt about, it wasn’t pleasant, and placed a reassuring hand on her arm. “It was just a dream”
“I see” Nora breathed out. She took in her surroundings carefully; they were in an empty brick building, from the random stuff laying about she guessed it was for storage.
“Let’s go” Raph was leaning against a beam on the left “They’re handing out rations”
Nora nodded before looking down at her stomach; it’d been re-bandaged, this time with proper medical supplies and more care. “I did that while you were sleeping” Intoned Greta, “The field-hospital couldn’t spare the man-power to do it themselves”
Nora nodded in understanding. Greta was an artist at heart; she didn’t expect to make a career out of it. Instead she’d apprenticed with the local doctor. Nora winced, Doctor Baker was probably dead; the old man had a crippled leg and couldn’t even walk without a cane, let alone run.
As they left the building Greta spoke “This place used to be the food reserves, the people who escaped on the river came here”
It was a vast courtyard packed to the brim with haggard refugees, waiting in line for food.
Two men were fighting for food nearby, the hunger making them desperate. Underneath the pain of the wound Nora felt hungry too. She glanced at the sun and guessed she hadn’t eaten for at least a day.
“Nora” Exclaimed a familiar old voice, Nora turned to see Marnie charging towards her, she almost collapsed with relief. She threw her arms around the house-keeper and breathed in her old-lady smell, “Oh dear, be careful now. I queued for hours to get these for you kids and I won’t have you ruin them”
Nora looked between them to see three loathes of stale-looking bread. Marnie passed them out to each of them to sincere while they muttered thanks
Nora looked at Marnie suspiciously, “What about you? Have you eaten?”
The woman glowered at her, “Nora Algmann, I am none of your concern, just eat.”
Nora ignored her, breaking off a piece of bread but Marnie pushed the proffered food back towards her, “No and no, if you must know I’ve already eaten”
Nora was suspicious but relented at Marnies hard expression. It felt nice to argue with Marnie, if she tried she could imagine they were at home. Except then Kurtz would be there. Nora’s mood plummeted momentarily as she remembered.
They heard a scoff and the group turned, a Garrison officer stood there looking imperiously down at them, he turned and stormed away
Greta lowered her eyes in understanding “There isn’t enough food for everyone, too many refugees…”
Nora understood, she even wondered how many of the inhabitants of Wall Rose wished more people had died in the chaos. People already looked down on you the further out you lived from the centre; this would just make it worse.
As much as she understood it, she couldn’t help but bristle with fury as she heard the officer from before bitch about how more should of died. However, she could control herself.
Marnie couldn’t. With surprising speed the old woman strode over to the officer and kicked him in the shin. The officer looked prepared to hit back until he released the culprit was an old woman.
“You stupid, callous man!” Marnie screamed at the officer “You’ve never seen it, have you? They way they eat people, the way they grin as you scream? Have you!?”
The man growled, “Shut it, you old bat” He prepared to hit her but Raph stepped in, blocking his arm.
The man clicked his teeth and glanced around, “People like you ought to be more grateful”
Marnie glared at him then walked back. Nora had never realised how much she loved the woman before. At the same time the thought of begging off people like him filled her with shame.
“That was brilliant, Marnie” Nora beamed but the woman shook her head
“No, it was foolish. I just lost my head, reacting like I did solves nothing” The woman said gravely but smiled back nonetheless
Nora paused, and then said softly to Raph, “Have you found them? Your family?”
Raph responded in a monotone voice, “No.” Nora nodded, she didn’t no what to say, if she said ‘sorry’ it’d be like voicing the belief they were dead.
She desperately hoped they weren’t, the Serrano’s were her only example of a happy, perfect family and each of them were thoroughly good people…well Raph’s older brother Joan was a pervert and lazy, but still good. They were the kind of thing her and Kurtz wanted to join Survey Corps to protect.
She turned Marnie, “What about Uncle Yosef? Have you seen him?”
Marnie shook her head sadly, giving her that sinking feeling, “I ran into one of his secretaries, I’m sorry Nora, your Uncle didn’t make it” Nora felt sick, she didn’t get on well with Uncle Yosef, he was a pretentious and unbearably full-of-himself but he was still family. Her parents, Uncle Yosef…Kurtz, she was the only Argmann left it seemed, because of them.
“I’ll kill them all”
“You don’t mean the Titans do you?” Marnie said seriously
Nora nodded, eyes fixed on the floor
Marnie’s eyes widened in fright, she used both hands to grasp Nora’s cheeks so that they stared eye-to-eye “No Nora, this isn’t funny anymore. You can’t go back out there, you can’t face them!”
Nora glared at her “I will, I’ll kill every last one”
Marnie gave her a long frantic look searching her eyes for any sign of doubt or indecision. She started to tear up when she found none, “You fool, you will die for your stubbornness”
Nora didn’t even bat an eyelash, “What do you expect? You want me to cower behind Wall Rose, pretending to be all mighty like that man back there?” Nora scoffed, “Besides, nowhere is safe Marnie, if those Titans could breach Wall Maria then they could breach Wall Rose as well and Wall Sina after that”
Marnie was unmoved by her words, they faced off tensely for a few moments, “Fine, I can’t stop you but know that I think you’re throwing away your life for revenge”
Nora nodded, perhaps she was.
A few days later, the refugees were sent out to cultivate the land and secure food. But that couldn’t prevent the food shortage. In the following year 846, the Central Government launched a campaign to retake Wall Maria using the refugees. There were 250 thousand of them, almost a fifth of the total population. However, only about a hundred survived. With their sacrifice, the food shortage has improved, albeit a little, for those who survived.
As it turned out, some of Raph’s family did survive. Eventually they’d been able to look through the records kept by the government for their names. Unfortunately, they weren’t among the few that avoided being sent out to retake Wall Maria.
Raph spent that night punching the walls in frustration, tear tracks running down his face. His father and two of his brothers had been alive all this time, only to be sent out to die before he found them.
Finally, with bleeding knuckles he slid to the floor and placed his head in his hands. There was nothing either Nora or Greta could say, so they just sat down next to him in silent support
“Giants” Raph said darkly into the air before glancing at Nora “Are you still planning on killing them all?”
Nora said definitely, “Every. Last. One.”
At this Raph smiled, “We’ll do it together then”
To the shock of both of them, Greta spoke next, “Me too”
“What? Grets, you don’t have to say that” Nora said alarmed, Greta was not someone she could imagine in the military, let alone Survey Corps
“I will guys, I hate them. They tore and mangled everything I knew that day, they killed my father and I loved him, despite his flaws” Greta smiled into the distance, “And they took Kurtz away too” Nora placed an arm on Greta’s shoulder, she’d realised over the past year that more had gone on between them than either her or Raph knew. In hindsight she accepted she’d been a bit dense…
“Besides, you two are all I have, where you go I go, it’s as simple as that” Greta looked daringly at both of them, challenging them to say no. Nora would be the first to admit that Greta’s wild-fire hair made her look like some kind of demon when angry or even just serious like now.
All Nora could do was nod as Raph did the same
Greta smiled, “It’s just the three of us then, we’ll kill them all together”
Nora smiled morosely; it was just the three of them after all Marnie had been sent out too
Nora felt the last vestiges of her old world fade away as she watched Marnie walk away with the column of refugees going to their deaths. At least when Kurtx died it’d been sudden but the painful inevitably of Marnie’s death in the days before she left was unbearable. Nora cried herself to sleep that week.
Then Marnie dropped another bombshell
“You need to now something Nora” She’d said to be in a hard voice one night “I can’t put off telling you anymore”
“What?” Nora asked, perplexed.
“Nora your Mother and Father weren’t what you thought they were and they didn’t die of the plague”
Her face contorted in confusion, “What?” she said dumbly
Marnie answered carefully, “They were weapons designers for the military. I don’t know all the details, only that they were working on some sort of poison. There was an accident and it was released into the water system around Chlorba”
Nora’s eyes widened as she connected the dots, “Chlorba. So the Rotting outbreak wasn’t…?” People still spoke about how an outbreak of disease in the Cblorba, a district on the western edge of Wall Rose, in hushed voices. A third of the cities’ population died in only a week and the entire place had to be evacuated temporarily. It was apparently named the Rotting disease for the necrosis it caused in the flesh of its victims.
Marnie nodded sadly, “It was a cover-up by the military. I only found out because I already knew too much about your parent’s work, if they hadn’t of told me I would’ve figured it out anyway. They themselves died due to the to accident but before that they wrote in their will that neither you or Kurtz was to find out about their work”
“So why are you telling me?” Nora wasn’t sure she wanted to know this, not now with Kurtx dead and Marnie about to leave forever. She didn’t want to know that her parents played a key part in the deaths of all those people.
“Because I made another promise to your parents” Marnie reached inside her blouse and pulled out a key on a necklace, “I don’t know why but they told me to one day give you this when you were mature enough. It unlocks the door to the basement. Your mother said once you do all your questions would be answered. I don’t know what she was referring to, only the look in her eyes when she said it. Nora whatever you do you have to get to that basement. You understand?” Marnie stared into her eyes expectantly
“Yes” Nora nodded, still uncertain, what could be in that basement that was so important?
Marnie smiled and pulled her into a hug, whispering into Nora’s ear “Just be careful, just please be careful…”
They stood arranged into rows, plain wooden shacks side by in front of them. Fences topped the cliffs that surrounded the training field, giving the area a secluded and suitably militaristic feel.
“You are now officially members of training unit no. 104” The bald man with deep-set eyes stepped forwards “Unfortunately for you, I, Keith Shardis, will be in charge. I’m not here to give you a warm welcome. All of you are now merely livestock, waiting to be eaten by Titans. You’re even worse than livestock. For the next three years, I’ll train you useless shits. I’ll teach you how to fight the Titans! When you face a Titan in three years, will you still be just food? Or will you become another glorious wall for our walls? Or will you destroy the Titans and become a mighty champion on mankind? The choice lies in your hands.
The last one, Nora thought, I’ll kill them all.
Episode 3: The Trail
“Oui, you there!” Instructor Shardis barked at Greta, who’d managed to tie her hair back
“Who the hell are you?”
“I’m Greta Hertriff, Sir. I’m from Shiganshina, Sir.”
“Sure you are, your hair is retarded and so is your name, you parents give you it?”
Greta maintained her composure, “My mother, Sir”
“Hertriff, why are you here?”
‘To contribute to mankind’s victory, Sir”
“Fucking splendid, you’ll make fine Titan feed.”
The instructor seemed satisfied and moved on to his next victim, he repeated the process on the other trainees. Meanwhile, to other instructors walked back and forth down the line, if Nora didn’t know any better she’d say they looked nostalgic. She realised this must be normal, grilling new recruits until they crumbled in the hopes of weeding out the disobedient or overly meek. Well she’d seen the enemy, she’d seen what they did and nothing he could say or do held a candle to that test.
Nora attention was peaked when a trainee said he wanted to join something called the ‘Military Police’ to live in the Interior and promptly received a head-butt, she didn’t know much about that Military Police but it sounded like a cowards dream to her.
She tuned out after that, until Potato Girl happened. Some girl had chosen to eat a potato during initiation, why? Because they taste better hot. They then got into a brief discussion of the philosophy behind potato eating before finally, we smilingly great reluctance, she offered the instructor the rest of the potato. Then the girl, Sasha Braus from Dauper, chose to run laps until she dropped instead of the missing a meal.
After that, Nora and a few other trainees saw Sasha still running laps, Five hours later.
“If I’m not mistaken, Dauper’s a backwater mountain village of hunters” Supplied Conny Springer as they watched
A wagon made it’s way up the nearby hill. “Are those dropouts?“ Nora asked, gesturing
“Yeah” Said a girl, Mina she thought her name was, “They asked to be transferred to landfills”
Greta was astounded, “Seriously? But it’s only the first day”
Nora shrugged, “I guess they didn’t realise what they were getting themselves in for, it’s better they quit now than panic later on if they can’t handle it”
A trainee named Marco turned to her, “That reminds me, you weren’t asked where you were from and all that” He said in a friendly voice, asking an unsaid question
Nora smiled at Greta, “Me and her and from Shiganshina”
Their faces creased with fearful awe, “Does that mean you were there on That Day?” Asked Conny bluntly to Marco’s obvious dismay. “Did you see it? The Colossal Titan?”
Nora nodded, “Yeah”
Soon every single trainee heard about Nora having seen the Colossal Titan. By diner, they’d gathered on mass around her table. She shot Raph and Greta an envious look, why weren’t people bothering them?
“Like I said, I’ve seen it” She gestured to her friends “So have they”
“Seriously?” Thomas Wagner asked,
“How big is it?” She didn’t remember that boy’s name
“Big enough for its head to peek over the wall.” She tried to keep her tone as uninviting as possible; Nora didn’t think she could handle giving a Q&A on that day
“What?” Said a boy, “But I heard it could step right over the wall” A chorus of people backed him up
She felt a bit indignant, just they kept bugging her for details then they wouldn’t accept the ones she gave? “I know what I saw, it wasn’t that big”
“What did it look like?” Asked Mina
“It had barely any skin and its mouth was huge”
“What about the Armoured Titan that smashed through Wall Maria?”
Nora thought about it, recalling the sight of it standing before the sun-lit breach in the Wall, “It looked more normal, just lacked skin on it’s legs and I think it had a weird face” Nora shrugged, “I was pretty far away”
A boy jumped in, “What are normal ones like?”
That’s right, Nora thought, they’re just like she and Kurtz were never having laid eyes on a Titan before. Then she stilled, Kurtz, the image of that Titan’s mouth played in her head, along with his dying screen of her name. The grin, that stupid fucking grin…
“They smile” Nora muttered, then went silent. She couldn’t bare to think about their rotund, naked bodies, let alone paint a verbal picture for everyone else.
At her silent, Marco cut in, “Let’s stop with the questions, everyone. I don’t think she wants to think about it”
“Thanks” She flashed Marco a smile, still she didn’t want to leave them more terrified than they already were, that wouldn’t help anyone, “They aren’t invincible, they just walk and eat, they have less intelligence than animals, once we master the 3D Manoeuvre Gear, we can kill them, I know it” She didn’t know if she was saying it for her benefit or their, but they did seem to perk up a bit, so she carried on. “I’m going to kill them, I’ll join Survey Corps and kill them all”
“Are you retarded?” This voice wasn’t from her pack of listeners but from her left, it was Military Police guy, Jeah Kirschtein, “Did you just say you wanted to join Survey Corps?”
“Yes” She looked at him accusingly, “Did you say you wanted to join the Military Police and hide behind Wall Sina?”
Jean nodded, “I’m a honest man. You won’t find me acting like a hero when I’m actually pissing myself”
Nora laughed bitterly, “You’re an honest coward, good for you. Lets just hope not every solder is as slimy as you are”
The bell rang just then, shaking Nora out of her anger
Jean held up his hands in surrender, “Sorry okay? I’m not saying you ideas are wrong. How about we just drop it?”
Jean held out a hand, Nora paused a moment, suspicious before shaking it. “Sure”
Nora glanced to Raph and Greta, silently asking if they wanted to leave. They nodded and Nora walked away. Jean’s eyes widened as they saw Greta,
“Hey, you” He called to her
Greta turned around, puzzled, “Me?”
Jean nodded, “It’s just I’ve never seen someone with hair like yours, I just had to say something. Sorry…it’s very beautiful” His blush covered the centre of his face
“Um…thanks, that’s nice of you, I’ve, uh, got to go” With that Greta raced off. Nora was weighting just outside the door, smirking.
“Well he did say he was honest…” Nora mused
Greta shot her a pleading look, “Can we please not talk about that?”
“Maybe you should cut your hair though? It might get in the way of Manoeuvre Training”
Greta sighed, “It’s better as it is. When it’s shorter it just gets even more bushy without it’s own weight to pull it down, I’ll start plaiting it again though”
Nora looked at Greta piteously, “I bet that takes ages, do you want me to help? I warn you I’m not very good with plaits”
Greta laughed, “Sure, don’t worry it’s pretty easy with a bit of practise”
Raph looked at them forlornly. He needed male friends. Fast. Friends that made fart jokes not plait each other’s hair. “Bye” He told them abruptly before striding out in search of masculinity
Nora always thought the Maneuverer Gears were amazing, like flying machines. Her and Kurtz used to jump across the furniture in their house when they were young, pretending to be propelled by the machine. She was wrong, so very wrong. How on earth did anyone stay upright with these things? How could Raph do it? The boy had all the natural grace of an ox. But he was just sitting pretty.
“What the hell are you doing, Nora Argmann? Get yourself upright” Shouted Instructor Shadis
This was bad, if Nora couldn’t use the Manoeuvre Gear she may as well give up and become a farmer. Nora dearly regretted all the lofty stuff she said the day before, it all seemed so empty now.
Later, not long before dusk, Nora and Raoh were back in the training ground. She’d begged her talented friend to help her. Greta tagged along as well, while not as good as Raph, she was also a natural at the Maneuverer Gear
“Stick to basics” He said, “Don’t try to be fancy. Don’t lean forward or back and gently put your weight on the hip harnesses”
Nora nodded her head, that’s what she did wrong before then, she must have subconsciously leant forward.
Greta smiled encouragingly at her “Just relax, if I can do it you can”
“Okay. I’m sure I can do it this time” She took a deep breath “take me up Grets”
Nora lasted only a moment before face-planting the ground so hard the two of them winced.
Nora had been so sure, so certain that if she just wanted it enough, she’d ace training and be in Survey Corps in no time. She was wrong. If she couldn’t manage to at least stay upright while using a Gear then sooner or later Instructor Shaddis would tell her to leave. Or maybe she’d just break under the humiliation of it all.
“-can’t afford good for nothings here” Murmured a voice, that Nora distinctly remembered asked her questions the day before
The mocking glances were one of the worst parts of this situation. As she sat in her place in the corner of the room, she could tell half the room was discussing her pitiful performance. She slumped in her seat as wisps of conversation reached her ears. She’d been wrong; it was worse than mocking, some people pitied her. She’d never been a person to pity before. Even after Shiganshina, so many had lost loved ones that her case had been nothing special.
“Nora” Raph’s calm voice snapped her out of her self-pity
Greta placed a reassuring hand on her forearm and said soothingly, “Don’t let it get you down, you can just do it tomorrow”
“I’m pathetic” She said hollowly, “I can’t hope to exterminate them. Not if I can’t even stay fucking upright”
Raph once more broke into her morose thoughts, “Then give up”
“What?” Nora asked betrayed, hadn’t they promised to kill them all together? She realised that despite her defeatist thoughts the reality of actually quitting was un bearable
“You should give up” His voice was monotone and matter-of-fact, “Help in other ways, being a soldier isn’t the only way to fight”
“You’re saying I should become farmer or something?” Nora spat angrily, “You think I’d be content safe and sound as others die for me?”
“Your feelings are irrelevant. It is not your decision”
Nora paused, not quite sure how to respond. Her feelings were irrelevant, weren’t they? It didn’t matter at all if she wasn’t ‘content’, if she couldn’t fight, nobody would let her be a solder, it was as simple as that. She couldn’t even find it in herself to be angry at Raph, he was just being honest after all.
The distant ringing of bells told the trainees that mealtime was over. Nora trudged away, desperate to find a solution, she was sure there was some kind of ‘trick’ to staying upright. She sighed, deciding to shallow her pride and go begging the other trainees for tips. It was going to be a long evening.
She marched into the woman’s barracks, Greta in toe. Who was the best girl at using the Maneuverer Gear? Potato Girl probably, she’d try her first. Nora cursed herself for not thinking of this earlier; she would’ve brought food as a bribe.
Her eyes scanned the barrack before she caught sight of Potato Girl swinging from a bunk bed.
“Sasha” She greeted, catching the scatter-brained girls attention, “Could I ask you a favour?” Seeing that Sasha was silent, she continued, “Could give me some tips on using the Maneuverer Gear?”
Sasha just shrugged and went back to swinging off her bunk bed,
Nora pleaded, “Please, look in return I’ll give you some of my food at breakfast”
This caught Sasha’s attention, making her look slightly pained, “There’s nothing I can say, you just sit there”
Nora hung her head, “Thanks anyway” She just a bit guilty at waving the promise of more food in the perpetually hungry girl’s face now, “I’ll give you half by bread tomorrow okay?”
Sasha, who’d been pouting into thin air, perked up immediately, “You are my saviour” Worryingly, Nora thought, Potato Girl seemed perfectly serious as she said it.
Nora turned and went in search of another girl to ask, getting progressively more desperate. Some of the less kind ones, such as Annie and Ymir, just scoffed and told her to give up, like Raph had. But even the nicer women seemed to think her desperation to become a solder was, at best, misguided.
Finally, Nora gave up with the woman and decided to go to the men’s barracks. It was against the rules, of course, but the looming threat of being kicked out anyway made that almost irrelevant.
Raph arched a brow as she climbed in the window but said nothing. And many of the other men looked scandalised, at least until she started asking for tips, then their faces looked either awestruck or mocking at her tenacity.
Nora ignored them and went first to the more familiar faces,
“The trick to staying upright? Sorry, but I’m a genius, so I can only say you have to ‘feel’ it” Bragged Conny unhelpfully
Nora warily looked to Jean, conscious of their confrontation the other night. If she had to pick someone she least wanted to ask for help, it’d be him. “Actually, I almost want you to tell me something. I can’t understand the trick for maintaining you sanity after embarrassing yourself so completely”
Nora scoffed, “I’m shameless when it comes to getting what I want” She tried to calm herself down, she needed them and being confrontational wasn’t helping, “Please, I’m begging you, please”
The two of them shared a look before shrugged coldly, “If you can’t do, you can’t do it” Said Conny bluntly, “Didn’t you say it’s better for people to quit if they can’t handle it?”
For a moment her mask cracked and pure humiliated desperation shone on her face. Oh how she wanted to punch her past self in the face. Seeing that getting help from those two was hopeless, Nora moved on. She went to nearly half the barracks, some of the men misunderstood Nora’s reasoning for being there.
“Please, I’m begging you, anything you know that might help?”
“Maybe, but first you’ve got to help me a little” The man licked his lips and roved his eyes up and down her body. Raph shot him a threatening look
Nora said bluntly, “Fine, what can I do? I can’t give you my food rations, I’ve already promised them to other people” The innuendo had seemingly flown right over her head
The man took her denseness for resistance, and seeing Raph discreetly crack his knuckles, gave up “I can’t help, just piss of”
Finally, she ducked into the bunk where Reiner and Bertholdt were talking, they were a quiet pair and Nora hadn’t spoken to them before, but apparently they were talented.
“Please, I heard to the two of you were really good” Explaining what she wanted had become pointless, seeing as the barracks had all observed her making a spectacle of herself.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think there’s a secret to just dangling there” Said Reiner gravely, “I don’t think I can give you the kind of advice you’re looking for”
“I see” Nora sighed,
It was one thing to here that from people who weren’t inclined to be helpful anyway but from Reiner it just seemed more real. Underneath her desperation, Nora had decided she respected this man. Reiner Braun was calm, stoic and to the point without being unkind. He was exactly the kind of man her and Kurtz dreamed of solders being.
Raph spoke softly…well softly for him, “We’ll have to just see tomorrow”
The other man, Bertholdt, broke in as they were leaving, “You two are from Shiganshina, right?”
They both nodded, “That’s right”
“Then you know how terrifying Titans are, so why are you trying so hard to be soldiers?”
Nora had been that same question in at least five different ways that night. As such, she had a well-practised response but Berntholdt was the first to ask Raph that question as well.
“They killed my family and starved humanity. We will kill them all” Said Raph bluntly, but even that was uncharacteristically sentimental for him.
“I see” Replied the man
Nora felt a bit curious about the two, they clearly weren’t from the interior, Reiner especially, and she couldn’t remember where they said they’d been from in induction.
“Reiner and I come from a mountain village near the south-eastern part of Wall Maria”
“But then…” Nora felt a sense of dread for them. The evacuation of Wall Maria was haphazard at best. As the Titan’s advanced, communicating with and arranging transport for the people became difficult, humanity simply lacked the resources for an evacuation of that scale and the Titan cut-off any usual systems they had. It was especially bad in the south and with remote regions; Reiner and Berntholdt’s hometown was both
“Yeah…unlike the riverside towns, we didn’t get word of the breech in time. The Titans got to us first” Berntholdt lowered his eyes, “It was around dawn. The livestock were making a ton of noise and these weird tremors were getting bigger and bigger. And then, I realised they were footsteps, I rushed to open the window, and…” He trailed off; Nora imagined the stupid grinning face of the Titan that killed her brother. “I don’t remember much after that, just the panic.”
Reiner stopped him from continuing, “Why are you going on about this?” His voice was angry…just filled with solemn confusion
Berntholdt looked to his friend, “Sorry” Reiner’s shoulders relaxed, prompting him to continue, “Basically, what I was trying to say was you guys are different from them”
“’Them?’” Nora asked
Berntholdt elaborated “The people here who don’t know the terror of Titans”
To Nora’s surprise, the two men asked them to sneak out with them. Finally, she thought to herself, someone who’ll help me. She felt a bit guilty at the thought, it wasn’t as if Raph and Greta didn’t try they just couldn’t give the kind of explanation she needed.
“Most of the trainees are here for the sake of social appearances” Berntholdt said as they trudged through the darkness, to what they assumed to they training ground. The cold night air bit at her skin, she wrapped her standard issue trainee cloak tight around her shivering body. After they left the glow of the light shinning through the window, the night was pitch black. Her only source of light was Berntholdt’s lantern but that wasn’t enough to stop her stumbling now and again on the uneven ground.
“People say those who don’t enlist are cowards, so they follow public opinion and become soldiers” His head was low and his shoulders bent as he spoke,,
“Not that I’m any better, I’m doing this to join the Military Police and stay safe behind Wall Sina. If I don’t end up good enough to join then I’ll probably quit the military altogether”
Nora didn’t quite know how to react to this revelation. On the one hand, it seemed a cowardly goal and likely a waste of 3 years of his life. But on the other, at least he knew what it was he was hiding from. Unlike Jean, Berntholdt had come face-to-face with a Titan, he knew the terror, and he’d seen the grin. Jean had looked almost proud of his choice, while Berntholdt was ashamed.
“You value your own life” She said finally, “There’s nothing wrong with that”
Reiner spoke next, “As for me, I’ll return to the hometown I was forced to flee. Absolutely, no matter what” he was so determined Nora thought for a moment that not a force on heaven or earth could stop him. It gave her hope, to see someone as committed as she was to something other than hiding.
“And you?” Berntholdt turned his head towards her, “Why’d you become a soldier?”
“I’ve always wanted to join the Military, to join Survey Corps” She said, “Before, it was for hope; me and my brother couldn’t stand the idea of humanity living like cattle. But now he’s gone” Nora said pensively, “I could say it’s still for hope but that would be a lie…it’s revenge. I want to join the Military to wipe those grins off the face of the earth. I’ll kill them all, I don’t mind dying in the process”
There was an awkward silence that followed the intensity of her proclamation. Reiner and Berntholdt turned to stare at her while Raph just looked ahead, seemingly unaffected.
“You know” Berntholdt said thoughtfully, “You two are the first people I’ve met how think like that after seeing the Titans. Everyone else just wants to hide, or” He nodded to Reiner, “return to the life they lived before”
They crested a hilltop and Nora stared it awe at the valley below. It was mystically beautiful, the kind of thing she’d thought only existed in the pages of her books growing up. Moonlight reflected off a lake at the valley’s base, casting the scene in a faint blue light. Low, insubstantial clouds wafted by, formed by the dense pine forest covering all but the steep mountain slopes rimming the valley.
Nora was a city girl; she’d before the breach she didn’t think she’d ever even been out of sight of the Walls. She felt a pang of jealousy for people like Reiner, Berntholdt and even Potato Girl, they were probably used to these sights. She also felt a weight ease of her chest a little, for the first time in years she wasn’t consumed by grief, fear or bloodlust, Nora for once felt calm.
“Just take it from the top, Try adjusting you belt” Said Reiner, snapping her from her revere, “You’ll pull it off tomorrow, I know you can” Nora marvelled at how sure he sounded
“Thank you.” She breathed sincerely, “Reiner Braun”
She decided that Reiner Braun was somebody she would eternally admire, she’d never known anyone she respected more.
Instructor Shaddis’s hard, hazel eyes bore into her, rimmed by black. She stared unflinchingly back. It was time to sink or swim; she could feel the harness constricting her waist, see the expectant looks in the other trainee’s faces.
“Nora Argmann. Are you prepared?”
“Yes” There was nothing more to do. She would do this. She could do this.
Nora was too busy trying to focus to notice but the looks on the faces of the trainees had changed. Before, they were mocking, almost hoping the cocky girl with a hero complex would fail but that had changed. The sight of her frantic grovelling the night before, combined with the determination with which she stated her goal, had made it very difficult for anyone to not to hope she succeeded. Even Jean, who was trying in vain to look disinterested, had his fists clenched to his sides.
The cranking of pulleys sounded ominously, Nora felt her feet leave the ground. She had to do this. There. She was up. She used her outstretched arms to maintain balance.
A long moment passed. Then another. And another,
She had done it. The on looking crowd roared with approval. She wasn’t nonchalant like Raph, or carefree like Potato Girl but still…
She had done it.
There was a lurch, she cried out, trying desperately to rebalance…but Nora couldn’t the world span and before she knew, she was upside down in the all-to-familiar position of failure.
She saw Instructor Shaddis’s heavy boots come towards her upturned head, She tried to right herself, desperate.
“I can still- I can do this” She pleaded to him ignoring the blood rushing to her head.
“Let her down.”
She collapsed onto all fours, her eyes watering treacherously. That was it…that was her chance and she failed how could she fail. What would Kurtz say?
“Wagner, switch belts with Argmann”
Nora had just enough awareness to catch the command. What? Why? What good would switching belts do? She decided not to question it; a second chance was a second chance, after all.
She thought down every emotion but determination and wiped her eyes viciously on her sleeve. This time, she’ll do it this time.
And she did.
She could have laughed. It was easy, well not easy, not certainly not difficult. Nora barely swayed as she hung in mid-air
“Your equipment was defective; the fittings on your belt were damaged.” He inspected the Gear “I didn’t even know that could happen but I suppose I need to add them to the maintenance list”
One of the watching trainees whispered in awe, “She managed to get herself upright with broken equipment?” Another said, “Amazing”
“Th-then what about my aptitude assessment?” Nora looked to Instructor Shaddis
“No problems. Do your best in training.”
She grinned broadly, catching the eyes of all who’d pronounced her a failure the night before. She’d kill them all, the Titans that is.
But as she celebrated she couldn’t help her brain working.
The manufacture was suspicious, Nora thought. Something didn’t feel right, the Instructor seemed mystified about the defect and now was the worst possible time for something like this to happen and she was the worst possible person for it to happen to. It wouldn’t have mattered as much if Raph’s belt broke, for example, because he had already demonstrated how proficient he was.
Nora pushed it to the back of her mind, she was not about to play detective.
Training after that was brutal but exhilarating. She and Kurtz had been right, she thought absently one day, using a Maneuverer Gear was like flying.
Episode 4: The Trainee
2 years after enlisting
Nora stuck to her previous opinion that the valley was beautiful. But, with rain from above, towering pines to the side and mud on the ground, she could truthfully say she hated the place.
“Your slow. Run, you shitheads”
The cloak did nothing to block the rain or the cold and her body ached with fatigue. They’d been running for kilometres like this with the Instructor riding alongside on his goddamn horse. However, she could see that however bad this was for her, it was worse for Grets
“What’s wrong, Hertriff? You’re falling behind.” The words could have been caring from another person, but Instructor Shaddis was not a compassionate man.
Greta’s hair clung sprang, bedraggled, from the hood of her cloak. Giving her the look of a drowning cat was its fur gone awry. Greta was not an athletic person; she was short and slim in a scrawny way. She had always been more of a thinker, preferring to observe and deliberate rather than push forward. Training Camp, unfortunately, was not a place for people like her. But Greta persevered regardless, finding strength Nora hadn’t known she possessed.
“Is it too hard for you? Do you want ti be the only one who puts down their equipment?” If this was a real mission, you’d be Titan food already!”
The Instructor abandoned her then, riding forward to the main body of trainees.
Nora purposefully dropped to the back of the group, to better keep an eye on her friend. She looked up to see Instructor Shaddis staring purposefully at her with a calculating expression; she didn’t care if the man thought she was being sentimental. Unlike most of the trainees, who wanted to join the Military Police, Nora had no specific reason to impress the Instructor. She could care less if she was bottom of the group as long as she knew what she needed to acheieve her goal
She heard Greta swear with fatigue. Then suddenly Reiner shot past her until he was running side-by-side with the redhead
“Give that to me” He hefted Greta’s pack onto his shoulders “You’ll end up dropping out this way. We’re being graded on today’s training”
If Nora had a religion, it’d be Reiner-ism. Someone that awesome shouldn’t exist. She hadn’t even thought of taking Greta’s pack, although she doubted she could bare the extra weight anyway.
“But now, they’re gonna punish you too” Hissed Grets
“Then do your best so they won’t find out. Don’t make me change my mind”
“I’d rather die than live as a burden” Growled Greta before doing something entirely unexpected. She shot forward, yanking her pack off Reiner’s back and advancing to near the front of the group.
Nora grinned broadly. She’d been wrong, this was exactly where Grets ought to be.
Today they were rehearing how you executed Titan’s. To Nora’s great annoyance, they only had a single weak spot in the base of the neck. And even that was fiddly; cut to shallow and they just regenerated
Nora flitted through the trees with Raph by her side. She growled into the air, he always managed to land better hits than she did. Raph was annoyingly capable at every thing they did.
No. Nora forced the jealousy down, it was a good thing he was so skiled. It meant he’d live longer.
From the corner of her eye she spied Instructor Shaddis, watching them with deliberative calmness.
Reiner charged like an angry pit-bull. Nora breathed, then thrust her left hand into the centre of his chest while grasping his wrist with her right. In an instant she used her body weight to heave him over her back and plant him squarely on the floor.
It was hand-to-hand combat day, they were in a wide training yard overlooking the lake. Nora didn’t really see the point of knowing stuff like this, it was as if you could grapple with a Titan.
“Ooophhh” Exhaled Reiner, forcing Nora to feel a slither of guilt. Maybe, she’d gone a bit overboard…
“Shit, sorry man, I got too into it” Nora helped Reiner up. Absently, she noticed she talked like a man these days, not that she minded, femininity wasn’t helpful to her goal.
“You play the bad guy next”
Nora nodded, grasping the hilt of a dummy knife. “This training is pointless, especially if you want to join Survey Corps like us”
“If for us, it’s an unpredictable job. It’s foolish to think our opponent could never be human”
“Your right” Nora rarely thought of Survey Corps doing more than slaughtering Titans, but she supposed that was naïve. Besides, she’d developed a personal philosophy of ‘if Reiner says it, it must be true”, not that she let him know that
“Would ya look at that” Reiner gestured with a nod of the head
“It’s Annie, the Officers never notice her sneaking off like that” Nora observed. Annie Leonhart was sashaying between the sparring pairs, glancing cautiously from side to side. She didn’t know Annie well but Nora always a bit uncomfortable around her due to that dead look in her eyes. In contrast, Greta was Annie’s number one fan; she spent a stupidly large amount of time engaging the woman in one-sided conversation. When Nora asked Grets why, she’d just said that Annie looked lonely.
“Hey, let’s teach that slacker a lesson.” Nudged Reiner with narrowed eyes, “We’ll show her how soldiers ought to behave”
Nora’s brow arched, Reiner sounded more like a playground bully that the benevolent man he usually was. Without waiting for a reply, Reiner strode towards Annie, blocking her path with his broad chest.
“You looking for a head-butt from the instructor?” The threat was very real, Instructor Shaddis had an unnaturally hard head and he enjoyed using it, “If you don’t want to get any shorter I suggest you recall your first day here and get serious”
What did he mean? Nora thought, she couldn’t recall anything-special happening to Annie of their first day. “What are you talking abo-”
Nora trailed off at the livid expression on Annie’s face. The blonde woman looked terrifying, as if Reiner had just said something abominable. She suspected Nora and Reiner must have a connection that she didn’t know about, or at least, that she’d missed something very significant on the first day.
“Let’s get moving” Reiner clamped his hands on her shoulders, pushing her towards Annie.
“Me?” This was completely unfair, why couldn’t he fight that maniac?
A few moments later, Nora and Annie were facing each other battle-ready. The blonde still looked furious and, what’s worse, she seemed to have transferred her fury from Reiner to her. Get a hold of yourself, Nora thought, it’s only a spar, besides, she had floored Rainer and he was twice Annie’s size.
“You ready?” Annie glared. “Okay then”
A few moments later she was contorted on the ground in an unnatural position and groaning in pain.
“Here” She said, tossing Reiner the dummy knife as if Nora was curled up like a pretzel a foot away, “Now it’s your turn to attack me”
Nora glowered up at him; this whole situation was his fault in the first place. “Do it, weren’t you gonna teach her the responsibility of being a soldier?”
Reiner was clearly horrified but looked determined nonetheless, “Yeah. Sometimes a soldier can’t back down. Like right now” Nora felt a surge of faith, maybe he could defeat Annie?
Reiner ended up in the same humiliating position as Nora had been. Nora was torn between fear of Annie and righteous amusement at the situation.
“Your technique is incredible” Nora said her the retiring woman, “Who taught you to fight?”
“My dad” Her voice was blank, “Who cares? Doing this is pointless?”
“You mean this training?”
“Anti-personnel techniques don’t factor into out scores, so people just take it easy until it’s over” She looked to Jean and another boy, whose sparing was so lethargic it looked more as if they were just groping each other. “The right to join the Military Police and live in the secure Inner District is only granted to the top scoring 10 graduates. The only people who bother with this are either stupidly serious like you, or seriously stupid”
Potato Girl and Conny were making stereotyped martial arts noises and flapping their arms about. Nora laughed at their misfortune when Instructor Shaddis went over, that man certainly has creative ways to hit people…
In a flash, Annie attacked; forcing the tip of the dummy-knife painfully into her chest, “Why are the people most capable of opposing the Titans, given the privilege of avoiding them entirely? Isn’t it a farce?”
Nora struggled to maintain her composure; “Perhaps” She had to fight back. Nora went to flip her over, but failed miserably. Annie straddled her chest, holding the wooden knife to Nora’s throat. Suddenly, Annie got up, realising her.
“The point is I can’t even pretend to be stupid enough to play soldier in this insane world”
Nora stared after her, dumbfounded at Annie’s twisted logic. Was she critiquing or admiring those who didn’t just want to join the Military Police? Was she suggesting that because of an inane quirk in the military system, humanity didn’t deserve protection? Why did she even join the military in the first place? Annie didn’t look to Nora like the kind of person who’d want to cower away behind Wall Sina. Aside from anything else, Annie just didn’t seem to care about life enough.
Later, at dinner, Nora relayed to Greta what happened. Predictably, she rushed to Annie’s defence
“It’s just natural. Before the fall of Wall Maria, only a few soldier in Survey Corps actually used the Maneuverer Gear. With limited usage or innovation the entire practise would naturally fall into decline” Nora supposed she could see Greta’s point, in a twisted way the Military Police system was helpful, at least in the past. Nora knew that recruiting and training people for the Military would be a lot harder without the motivation of security offered by the Military Police.
She could even hear Jean half bragging about how he was going to use his Maneuverer Gear technique to get into the top 10. Other trainees murmured enviously around him. Despite all Greta’s rationalisations and her own understanding of fear, Nora couldn’t help but be disgusted at them.
The only one with any redeeming qualities was Marco. He seemed to genuinely want to serve and protect the King, Nora was not particularly patriotic herself, but she could respect it as a motivator. Jean didn’t seem to see it that way though,
“C’mon, Marco. Stop being such a goody-goody and just tell the truth. You want to join the Military Police so you can live a simple, comfortable life within the Inner District”
“No, I really want to-“
Nora cut in, she couldn’t help it, Jean managed to piss her off in ways few people could, “You think the Interior’s comfortable do you?” Jean and Marco jerked to face her, “Five years ago, this place was also part of the Interior”
“What’s your point?” Said Jean
“Wall Rose and Wall Sina could be breached just as easily as Wall Maria, idiot. You’re a fool if you think anywhere is safe”
The entire hall went silent, many people’s faces filled with dread. Jean’s eyebrow twitched and he muttered a “Damn you…”
“Don’t you think it’s crazy? Learning how to kill Titan’s just to run away from them?”
“You’re right, it is crazy, but if it benefits me I don’t exactly give a shit” Jean spat back
Nora pushed herself up from the table, and glowered up at him “You spineless bastard”
Jean stood as well, “Fuck off and face reality”
“Nora stop this” Greta pleaded to deaf ears.
It was Raph that finally stopped them with a low, “Stop.”
Greta took the opportunity to throw her arms around Nora’s waist, functioning as a living straightjacket. Nora shook her off Greta got teary and hurt as a result. Jean practically pounced on Greta afterward. Patting her on the back and flirting so blatantly even she got it. It infuriated her, Jean was a scumbag and Greta was far too good for him.
She strode in between the two of them, glaring at him, “Fuck off”
“Tch, you bitch” Jean snapped, he grabbed the front of her shirt and hoisted Nora off the ground. Infuriated, she kicked him as hard as she could in the shin. He dropped her after a pained grunt. Then, without missing a beat, she decided to show him why he should’ve taken sparing seriously.
Nora grabbed him arms and yanked backward while aiming her foot squarely for his instep. His back hit the ground with a satisfactory thump.
“That hurt” He grouched, “What was that?””
Nora looked down her nose at him, “That was a move I learned while you were slacking off. You want me to face reality? You first; one day you’ll see why a fool like you should never call themselves a soldier”
People stared at them, at least half the room looked somewhere between ashamed and self-doubting. Nora felt a sense of triumph; even if she didn’t change anyone’s mind at least they’d sleep less easily about their choice in life.
Any positive feeling fled when she heard Instructor Shaddis’s voice “I thought I just heard some kind of loud noise. Someone care to enlighten me as to what’s going on?”
It was quiet for a moment, then Raph raised his hand, “Sasha farted, Sir”
The entire room broke out in poorly-supressed laughter. Potato Girl looked horrified
“You again?” Said Instructor Shaddis, believing Raph’s lie with a hand pressed to his nose, “Learn some self control!”
Potato Girl spent the entire evening poking Raph, who showed no sigh of caring he’d just thrown her under a wagon. At least until he sighed and gave her an his piece of bread, It seemed food mended all wounds for Potato Girl, she stuck by Raph for the rest of the night. Inexplicably, Nora observed a sense of familiarity between Raph and Potato Girl, odd…it seemed they were friends.
Thus the graduation of the 218 trainees came upon them. They were called to assemble at night in a training field as the Head Instructor laid out the paths of their future.
“Hands upon your hearts” He called out, immediately each trainee assumed the traditional salute with a “Yes Sir”
“For you trainees graduating today, there are three paths now open before you. You can be stationed at the Walls and defend the cities as members of the Garrison. You can put your lives on the line and fight Titans in their own territory as members of the Survey Corps. Or you can serve the King by controlling the crowds and protecting order as part of the Military Police Brigade. Of course, only the ten highest scoring trainees we announced earlier are allowed into the Military Police”
Nora looked to her sides; Krista Lenz, Potato Girl, Conny, Marco, Jean, Annie, Berntholdt, Reiner and Raph. Including her, they were the top 10. She wished Greta could have made it in as well, for no reason other than it would giver her friend a much-needed ego boost.
Their trainee group then did what all graduates ought to do. They got drunk.
“Did it, I’m in the Military Police now” Exclaimed Conny
“We’ll never have to worry about food again” Nora couldn’t see you said this but she knew it must be Potato Girl
Jean was shooting her irritated looks; Nora guessed he’d badly wanted to outrank her and puffed out her chest pridefully, it was petty to boast, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.
“You’re not joining the Military Police, Nora? Are you serious?” Gawped Thomas Wagner
“Neither is he” She gestured to Raph. It always annoyed her how she was the centre of attention when Raph should have been in the spotlight as much as she was.
“But you’ve both got top 10 scores”
Nora shrugged, “I’ve said I wanted to join Survey Corps from the beginning, I’ve spent the last 3 years training for one reason, to kill Titans”
“But you can’t possibly win” Thomas shouted, making the large mess hall fall silent, he went nervous and said more quietly, “You know full well just how many have been eaten by them. We’ve lost more than 20% of the entire population already. Mankind doesn’t stand a chance against them”
You could near a pin drop in the silence. The whole hall looked to their feet as he said what they all believed to be fact.
“So?” She said loudly, making sure the hall could hear, “You’re just giving up then? You’re just going to hang you head and let humanity crumble around you?
“Well-“ He started meekly by Nora cut him off
“Yes, we’ve only ever suffered defeat, but we knew nothing about them then and were content to stew behind the Walls. Many have died but the knowledge we’ve gained is a beacon of hope, we can kill them now. I’ll kill them. I’ll kill them all until humanity can break free of this fragile cage we call safety.”
Nora glared at their disbelieving faces and slammed her half-full flagon onto a nearby tabletop as she left, Greta and Raph following after her.
She sat on the cold brick steps that led out of the mess hall, wiping away tears of anger on her sleeve.
She heard the sound of two pairs of footsteps and caught a flash of red out of the corner of her eye. Her closest friends sat down either side of her. There was silence for a long moment, before Raph finally said.
“You know we’re joining Survey Corps with you, right?” Raph said casually.
Nora looked into his face for a trace of doubt and, finding none, turned to Greta questioningly.
Grets nodded her head resolutely.
“Yeah guys, I know” Nora smiled at them
“They’re here, the main force of Survey Corps is here”
Nora felt a sense of déjà vu as she saw the Survey Corps. It was just like before, they were watching as Survey Corps departed through the gates that marked the boundary of humanity. Nora felt a pang, the only thing missing was Kurtz and that would always be true.
“That’s Commander Erwin” Nora remembered being in denial about having a crush on that man
“Commander, kick their Titan arses for me” Called a voice above the crowd
“Look theirs Corporal Levi, they say he alone counts for an entire unit” She saw the Corporal mutter something to himself, with an irritated look on his face.
Hanji Zoe was right next to him, just like before. She remembered how much Kurtz had a man-crush on the Corporal. He’d prattle on about how one day he’d be as good as he was, after seeing them depart before he’d even said he was going to get his hair cut to look like the man’s.
Nora couldn’t help it, she cracked, the pain of relieving the same experience made the absence of Kurtz feel all the more there, like an irreparable hole in her life. She forced down the emotion until only the slivers of tears were visible around her eyes.
Then, just like before, Hanji Zoe pointed her out amongst the crowd to the Corporal. The man’s eyes focussed on me instantly, unlike before, I didn’t flinched as he scanned me. The Corporal noted her uniform and seemed to recognise Raph and Greta from before, hardly surprising since they both stood out. His eyes roved the area around them, if looking for someone. Nora realised with a chill that he was looking for Kurtz.
Then he rolled his heavy-lidded eyes forward, as if nothing had happened.
“Seeing them is cheering everyone up,” Said a girl named Hannah, who’d been in their training group, “The past won’t have to be repeated”
Her boyfriend, Franz continued, “The artillery has been improved as well and that Colossal Titan won’t come again, right?”
“Yeah” Agreed Hannah cheerfully,
They looked too happy for Nora to bare shaking them out of their naivety. No amount of artillery could help if Wall Rose were breached and they had no reason to assume the Colossal Titan wouldn’t come back.
“What? You’re going to enlist in Survey Corps?” Nora exclaimed, as she did the dirty work of cleaning out a cannon barrel. Conny Springer was not known for his bravery or even much in the way of principles, “But you were going on and on about joining the Military Police?”
They had a week to go until the enlistment ceremony. In the meantime the Garrison had them doing grunt work. Which was why they currently stood atop the Wall around Trost, polishing up the artillery. It was boring but easy which Nora welcomed in spite of herself.
“Yeah I know. But…” The small boy trailed off awkwardly
“He got inspired by your speech yesterday” Explained Mina Carolina
“Shut up” Conny rebuffed her with a blush, “This is my own decision”
Thomas came towards them laughing, “Don’t be so shy about it, you’re not the only one”
“Thomas” Nora whispered, stunned, “You too?”
“Um everybody” Called Potato Girl, “I borrowed some meat from the officers’ morning rations” She pulled half a fat salami out from under the cover of her uniform jacket.
They were all horror struck, stealing food was not a trivial crime. In a few districts, thieves even got their hands cuts off.
“Sasha, are you an idiot? Do you want solitary confinement?”
“Let’s all split it up together later” She murmured with a look that everyone except Nora found disturbingly sexual at the thought of eating, “We’ll slice it up and eat it with bread”
Nora was actually rather touched by this. For Sasha, sharing food was a sign of extreme benevolence and caring. Despite that, Nora wasn’t about to become an accomplice in her crime.
“Take it back” Nora told her sternly to a chorus of ‘yeahs’.
Mina chastised her “Meat is a luxury now that we’ve lost so much land”
“Don’t worry about it” Potato Girl waved them off, “Once we retake the land, we can keep pigs and cows again”
‘We’? Nora thought, did that mean Potato Girl was joining Survey Corps too? That was actually slightly unsurprising, in Sasha’s mind, food shortages were probably the most tragic thing about the Titans.
Everyone’s will power crumbled after that, they caved to the promise of meat
“I’ll take the meat”, ”Me too, so save my part”, “That goes for me too”
Marco finally got them of the subject, “They’ll find us out if we don’t get back to work”
Nora looked out at Trost, at the cannons that lined the Wall, at everyone’s smiling faces. Things were different now from 5 years ago, humanity was prepared. They could win.
Then the wind blew and lightning struck.
There was only a second before a crash sounded and they were all blown off the Wall in a flurry of debris. But Nora saw it; the Colossal Titan had reappeared and was trying to do to Trost what it did to Shiganshina.
Nora was free falling; she hurriedly fired her Gear into the Wall.
“Samuel” Cried Conny to her right, an instant later Sasha shot down the wall after the unconscious man. She fired a hook into his leg, causing blood to spray out and him to be suspended in mid-air,
“Samuel, Don’t move” Sasha commanded
“That was close” Muttered Nora, but her relief was short-lived as they all looked to the base of the Wall. The gate was broken…just like before, light streamed in through the gap in the Wall and Nora remembered the horror that would follow.
“Again, the Titan’s will get in again!” She screamed at no one. No, it was different this time. Images of Kurtz screaming her name flashed through her eyes unbidden. Never again, she’d kill them all. “Ready the artillery, four groups, prepare for battle. The target’s right there; the Colossal Titan”
Nora trusted that the other would follow her orders in lieu of any other authority. Screaming with vicious bloodlust she ascended the Wall, “This is our chance. Don’t let it slip away”
Then she was back on the Wall, blades ready, face-to-face with her foe once more.
She’ll kill them all, starting with this one.
Episode 5: The Return
Nora ran along the surface of the Wall, trying to position herself to the attack the Colossal Titan’s neck. She saw it’s vast arm raise slowly into the air and leapt off the Wall a moment before it came across.
She fired her hooks into the blood red flesh that was the creature’s back. Was the Titan aiming for her? She looked frantically around, seeing the cannons she’d been cleaning not 5 minutes ago fly past.
No…It was aiming for the artillery Nora’s eyes widened in horror as a thought struck her, this Titan was intelligent. Or at the very least, commanded by somebody who was. This was bad; human’s only physiological advantage against the Titan’s was its intelligence.
A red hand reached towards her. Nora only just managed to evade it and went sprinting along the Titan’s forearm.
It doesn’t matter if it has a human’s intelligence, as long as it has a Titan’s weak spot
She swung round its shoulders. Eyes alighting when she caught sight the nape of its neck, conveniently marked by a diamond-shaped patch of connective tissue.
She fired her hooks once more and propelled herself towards her target. Nora’s blades barely sank in a few centimetres before she was blown back by steam. Her Gear struggled to cope with the force pushing her backwards, rattling ominously. Finally she pulled a trigger, the Gear pulled her back towards the Titan like a yoyo returning to a child’s hand.
She could see its nape barely a few metres away, raising her arms she prepared to strike. Her blades met nothing but air and dust.
It was gone.
How could it be gone? Nora’s eyes rolled madly in their sockets, searching for her foe. How could it just disappear? It was 60 fucking metres tall, things that big. Don’t. Just. Disappear. Nora fired her Gear into the Wall to prevent her falling.
“Did you get him, Nora?” Called Thomas from above her on the Wall
She shouted up to him “No. It’s just like 5 years ago; it showed up out of nowhere, just disappeared into thin air”
“Sorry” She said as she stepped foot on top of the Wall, “I let him escape”
“What are you apologising for? We couldn’t move a muscle” Comforted Thomas
“Oi” Snapped Conney, “This is no time for that. The Wall’s been breached. If we don’t hurry and block the hole, the Titans are going to get inside again”
The sound of a gear, the thud of a landing “What’re you on about?” Said a Garrison Officer “The operation we planned for the Colossal Titan’s reappearance is already in motion. Return to headquarters immediately. Don’t forget to make a full report if you came into contact with it”
“Yes Sir” They shouted in unison, with Conny adding, “Best of luck to you and the rest of the initial response team, Sir”
Nora looked down at Trost for a moment from atop the Wall. Tiny pinpricks were scurrying frantically north as they evacuation. Nora ideally wondered if another girl and her older brother were running together through the chaos.
With that thought, she set off to HQ
“Yesterday you were but cadets. Today, you are true soldiers,” Screamed an Officer, “We are expecting great things from you”
Nora listened absently as she watched Hannah and Franz embrace. Frantically, she turned back to Greta, who was trying to reload fuel canisters.
“Grets, you okay?” She placed a reassuring hand on her friends back, noticing she was shaking violently.
“I’m fine” Grets mumbled, “I’ll be fine in a second. But this is bad, right now we lack the means to swiftly fix an 8-meter high hole in the Wall. We haven’t even managed to dig up that massive rock that was meant to fill the hole. That means we can’t block access and that this Trost must be abandoned. It’s only a matter of time before Wall Rose gets breached too. Regardless, they have the power to destroy mankind whenever they damn well please.”
“Greta” Shouted Nora, grabbing the distraught girl’s wrist, “Calm down. Things are different now. Mankind will not be defeated by the Titans anymore”
“Sorry” Greta choked out, “I’m fine now”
Nora looked up to see Raph watching them and tried to smile in greeting, but it came out hollow.
Sleepy, she felt so very sleepy. Her legs felt warm, very warm. Was the ground shaking? Nora couldn’t string together a coherent thought. Suddenly; she felt a pair of arms tugging her backward
“She’s feverish from the heat in here, we need to get her over the Wall right away” A familiar voice yelled.
Grets? Why’s Grets upset? What’s she talking about?
The tugging intensified, Nora wished she could tell Greta to just let her sleep “Part of her body is still fussed with the Titan, I can’t get her out”
She felt pain, blinding pain in her legs; she couldn’t feel past her knees, what was going on? The shock of it forced her eyes open.
A green blur span past, Titans fell it in its wake. It was a nice blur then, or at least a helpful blur. Then the blur landed and Nora realised it was a person not a blob. It looked like a teenage boy, a short teenage boy. On his back was an insignia Nora couldn’t remember not recognising; two feathers, blue and white, with the blue resting on top.
The wings off freedom
The boy turned around “Hey, you kids. What’s the situation here?” No it wasn’t a boy it was a man.
She wanted to sleep, they were safe now, blur-man was here.
My fucking head Nora swore to herself, rising up onto her shoulders. Her eyes screwed shut in pain as she tried to keep the headache at bay. Nora had never been drunk before, but she imagined this was how a bad hangover must have felt. She groaned at pillow her head into her arms
Someone cleared their throat loudly making her look up. Nora realised two things, firstly, she was chained to a bed in what looked suspiciously like a dungeon and secondly that she had company.
“Do you have any questions?”
Commander Erwin Nora finally realised before looking the man’s right, Corporal Levi
Observing their blank stares, she remembered the Commander’s question. Did she have any questions? Yes obviously, but which were most important. It was clear why she was being detained, so asking about that was pointless…
That was what was happening before her memory cut off. She turned into a Titan and then, blank, well not completely blank. She remembered flashes of a heavy weight on her back and miniature sized buildings as well as the pain in her legs and blur-man. But still, she needed to know about the mission.
“Did it work?”
Commander Erwin looked surprised and even confused for a second, but then he answered calmly, “Yes, Trost was secured”
“Eventually” Corporal Levi accused.
Nora just nodded, what else was important? Her friends.
“Raph and Greta, my friends, a guy with a dark tan and a redhead. Did they make it?”
Commander Erwin paused dumbfounded, Corporal Levi answered in his stead.
Nora released a breath, that was a relief, but why would the Corporal know that and not the Commander? Unless…
“You’re the blur-man” Nora exclaimed, pointing at the Corporal. In hindsight, it wasn’t an intelligent thing to say but she was still disoriented at the time.
“Excuse me?” The Corporal said dangerously, causing Nora to flinch
Commander Erwin cut in, “Don’t you want to know where you are?”
“I’m in some dungeon somewhere, right? They have to lock me up I’m a threat-“ The Corporal scoffed “-or at least an anomaly”
“Correct. You’re currently in the custody of the Military Police but we finally got permission to see you a little while ago” The Commander held up an object, the key Marnie gave her.
“That’s mine” That key was special to her. Marnie had worn it all the time while she and Kurtz were growing up, seeing it beyond the bars of her cage was unsettling
“Yes, it is. Don’t worry, I’ll give it back later” He said reassuringly, “The basement of your house, the Argmanns house in Shiganshina, holds the secret of the Titans. Am I right?”
That was a bombshell, was he right? She could believe that there was a connection between her and her parent’s careers but that seemed a bit extreme. But then again, what did she really now about her parents? Only what Marnie told her, they built weapons and their creations led to the deaths of thousands.
“According to my housekeeper, my parents send that the basement would ‘answer my questions’. Other than that, you know as much as I do” Nora glanced at the Corporal, “Probably more”
Commander Smith’s eyes traced her face for any sign of dishonesty while the Corporal hissed, “What’s that look for?”
Nora met his gaze, “Hanji Zoe and you recognised me and Kurtz. Five years ago Hanji Zoe pointed us out to you as Scouting Corps left the gates. It happened again when you left, before the attack. You and her know something”
The Corporal didn’t even flinched instead scoffing, “Why aren’t you a clever bitch? Stop playing dumb” He thought she was acting?
The Commander sent him a look, “Levi. We’ve already concluded she has no reason to lie” He then turned back to Nora “There is still so much we don’t know yet, but for now I think the most important thing is to inquire about your intentions”
“To return to your house we must retake the Shiganshina District of Wall Maria. It would take drastic measures to seal the broken gate. We’d need your Titan strength. Our fate rides on a Titan, it seems. The Colossal Titan, the Armoured Titan, they are probably just like you. Your intentions are the key here to determining the fate of mankind”
Nora sat back. Her intentions had always been the same since Kurtz died, the never-ending loop of his dying scream assured her of that. It was finally time, she and her brother had dreamed of the moment they’d join Survey Corps since they were old enough to grasp what it was. Her fists clenched. He should have survived, he would have made it were it not for them.
“Answer the man, scum. What do you want to do?” The Corporal looked bored but deadly, which seemed his default expression
She pushed all her grief and rage into a single sentence “To join Survey Corps then kill them all, Sir”
The Corporal’s eyes widened a fraction, making him go from ‘bored but deadly’ to just ‘deadly’ looking “Oh, Not bad”
There was a long pause, “Erwin. I’ll take responsibility for her” He walked up to the bars, eyes tunnelling into her, “Tell that to the higher-ups. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I trust her. If she betrays us or goes berserk I’ll put her down without hesitation. Upstairs shouldn’t have a problem with that, nobody but me is suited for the job” He wasn’t talking to the Commander anymore; it was almost like the world had shrunk to the two of them, Nora trapped behind bars.
“I’ll accept your application”
How many days had she been in this cell? She stared forlornly at the cuffs around her wrists. Sure, she understood why they were doing this. But that didn’t take away the boredom.
With that thought, she went back to counting cracks in the ceiling.
Nora was going stir-crazy; she needed conversation, a view, anything. She’d was going tot go insane like this, then she’d be no good to anybody
“What are your names?” She asked the guards
“Do you live near here?” Nothing. “What about family? Do either of you have children?”
One of them snapped, “Shut up, monster”
Nora froze, monster, she was a monster to them. Worse than the foulest of human criminals, the same level as Titans. Why did everyone think that? She was as human as they were. She laughed. She loved. She felt remorse. What right did anyone have to brand her sub-human?
Not that everyone did; Raph and Greta had never been scared of her. Only worried. She sorely wished they were here now. Greta with her soft touch and soothing words, Raph with his silent strength.
She heard an iron gate slam somewhere nearby and tensed. For good reason, as not a second later a woman slammed into her jail bars
“So you’re Nora, eh? Are you okay? Anything new?” It was Hanji Zoe, the scientist of Survey Corps, “Sorry to keep you waiting but it seems you’re finally getting out” She held out handcuffs, “You’ll have to wear these”
They paced through a tunnel. Where? Nora had no idea.
“I’m Hanji Zoe, a Survey Corps squad captain”
Nora smiled at her, “I was a fan of yours growing up, me and my brother always wanted to join Survey Corps”
It was odd how much she trusted Hanji Zoe and entirely irrational, especially considering she’d been just as paranoid about her as Corporal Levy. But then again, Hanji was the first friendly face she’d seen in days, not counting the polite detachment of Commander Smith.
Hanji let out a high, girlish squeal, “You. Are. So. Cute.” The scientist then gave her a huge hug, which without the use of her arms for balance almost sent her toppling over.
When Hanji finally released her she came to a disturbing realisation, a strange man was sniffing her. “He’s another squad captain, Mike Zakarius, he has a habit of smelling people he just met, and then smirking. I don’t think it has any real significance, but he’s good enough that they gave him a squad”
They walked another few metres before Hanji exclaimed, “Oh, sorry, too much chitchat. We’re already here. Don’t worry” Hanji mysteriously added, “It’s actually better you not get any explanation in advance”
Soldiers grabbed her by the arms, “Eh? Wha-“ But Hanji cut her off, her expression having gone cold
“I know it’s selfish but we have no choice but to blindly trust you. Good luck” Nora had no idea the woman meant but also lacked that time to think about it.
She’d been thrust into what looked like a courtroom. The ceiling was high and decorated with a opulent mural. Windows covered the left side of the room, letting bright sunlight bathe the rows of wooden stands. The stands arranged in a very particular way, as if dictated by some obscure tradition, and a large square was left bare in the middle of the room. At the centre of the square sat a post, raised slightly by a stone platform, Nora realised that must be were the defendants were tied.
Where she’d be tied.
The barrel of a gun slammed into the centre of her back.
Sure enough the soldier forced her down into a compromising squatting position, then secured her hands.
Nora saw her friends in the stands to the side and stared, unsure how to react. Normally, she’d call out to them but not here, not with all these people glaring at her. Nora had never felt this kind of helpless terror before. With Titan’s she could run or hide or fight. But here she just had to grovel.
“Well then. Let us begin,” Announced a deep voice as an elderly, but not frail, man shuffled his papers on his very tall desk. From his position, Nora assumed he would be the man deciding her fate.
“Nora Argmann, yes? You are a soldier, sworn to sacrifice you life for the public good, is that correct?”
“Yes, Sir” Nora said clearly, if she just answered all his questions, she’d be fine right?
“This is an exceptional situation. This tribunal will be under military, not civilian, law. The final decision rests entirely in my hands. Your fate will be decided here”
From the corner of her eye, she saw Greta fidget in concern.
“Do you have any objections?”
“I appreciate you perception” In other words, ‘I’m glad you decided not to be difficult’ “I will be direct. As anticipated, concealing your existence has proved impossible. Therefore, we must make your existence public in some form or a threat to humanity other than Titans may arise. What I will decide today is which force will have custody of you, the Military Police or the Survey Corps? Then, I ask the Military Police for their proposal”
“Yes Sir” A man to her right said, “I, commander of the Military Police, Nile Dawk, will present my proposal. After a thorough investigation of Argmann’s body, we believe she should be eliminated immediately. It is certainly true that her Titan power overcame our previous peril. However, her existence threatens to spark a civil war. So we ask her to die for humanity’s sake, leaving behind all the information she can”
“There is not need for that” Cried a man in robes, who Nora identified as a Wallist, “He must be killed at once”. Nora found the very fact their crazed cult were here in a Military Tribunal to be alarming, things must’ve changed since 5 years ago, when no one gave them a spare glance
“Pastor Nick, order please” The man growled under his breath “We’ll hear Survey Corp’s proposal next”
The Commander spoke, “Yes Sir. I, 13th Commander of the Survey Corps, Erwin Smith, will present my proposal. We would welcome Nora Argmann as an official member of our forces and use her power to retake Wall Maria. That is all.”
There was an odd silence, it seemed everyone had expected him to talk longer, finally the Judge prompted, “That’s all?”
“Yes Sir. With his power, we can retake Wall Maria. We believe it is clear what our priorities should be”
“I see. And where do you plan to begin this mission? Pixis, Trost’s wall has been completely sealed, correct?”
Pixis replied calmly, “Yes, it can never be opened again”
“We would like to set out from Karanes, in the east” The Commander explained, “From there, we will proceed to Shiganshina. We will determine the route as we go”
“Wait a minute” A panicked voice cut-in, “Shouldn’t we seal all the Wall gates once and for all? The Colossal Titan can only destroy the gates. If we strengthen them, we needn’t endure further attacks”
Another voice “Shut up, merchant dog, with that Titan’s power, we can return to Wall Maria”
A third “We can no longer endure your delusions of grandeur”
Then, Corporal Levi interceded “You talk a lot, fat pig” He referred to the first man, “Where is your proof that the Titans will wait while we seal the gates? The ‘we’ that you speak of are only those you wish to protect, your ‘friends’ who line your pockets. The people that starve because there isn’t enough land to sow don’t even figure into the thoughts of you pigs”
The man nervously tried to defend himself, “We just thought we could survive by sealing the wall gates-“
“Silence” Pastor Nick cried, “Impious traitor, mere humans altering Wall Rose, walls that were a girl from God? Can you truly see those walls, God’s work far beyond human capabilities, and not understand?” The cleric raved on about the holy sanctity of the Walls. Despite her heavy load if fear, Nora was getting annoyed at the man.
The judge put an end to his tirade with heavy knocks to the wood of his desk.
“Silence, you may discuss you personal philosophies and opinions elsewhere. Argmann, I wish to confirm something. Can you continue to serve as a soldier, using you Titan powers to benefit humanity?”
“Yes, I can” Nora said determinately
“Oh? But the report on Trost’s defence says this, “Immediately after turning into a Titan, she swung her fist at Raphael Sarrano”
No Nora thought in horror, she turnout to the stands where Raph stood and noticed the right side of his face was conspicuously turnout away from her. How could she attack Raph? What would possess her to do such a thing? Could her Titan really act that far beyond her control?”
“Is Raphael Sarrano present?”
“Yes, that’s me” Raphs naturally mellow voice felt out of place
“You’re Sarrano? Is it true that, as a Titan, Argmann attacked you?”
There was a long pause and Nora could see Rico Brzenska’s lips moving rapidly, she assumed, to dissuade Raph from lying
“Yes, it’s true”
There were murmurs of displeasure in the stands. Nora could tell those that hadn’t been sure about her being a monster had just made up their mind.
Raph continued, “But Nora also saved by life, as a Titan, twice. The first time, she purposefully stood between a Titan, and me, after I ran out of fuel. The second time, she saved us” he nodded to Greta, “from a HE shell. I’d like these facts to be considered, as well”
“I object” Nile Dawk, the Military Police Commander, said, “I believe his comments are greatly coloured by personal feelings. Additionally, I have uncovered unsettling facts about Raphael Sarrano’s background” Nora saw Raph tense, what was going on? ”The Sarrano family was involved in the operation of a crime syndicate known as the Shiganshina Cartell, our sources inform us that even induction into the Cartell involved murder. Furthermore, Nora Argmann’s uncle and legal guardian, was involved with large-scale corruption within the district of Shiganshina, which he was governor of. I therefore question either of their humanity. Is it therefore right to leave mankind’s fate, resources and lives to her?”
Nora remembered the Sarrano’s well, they were the most loving and kind family she knew. This had to be a lie. Raph couldn’t kill anyone, and neither could his brothers. They were just blacksmiths, just innocent, law-abiding blacksmiths.
“Do we know that he’s human?” The fat merchant said, “We should dissect him too”
“Wait” Nora shouted, panicked, “You’re wrong, you have to be wrong. The Sarranos were good people”
“We can’t trust that” Responded a man, then another said, “You’re covering for her, that means she’s one of you”
“No” Nora screamed with all the frustration and anger she had in herself. She pushed herself forward absently, but strangely enough the room went quiet at the clang of her handcuffs. Nora looked around before realising the cause of the room’s silence. Fear. The observers looked horrified, as if Nora was going to burst into a Titan at any moment.
“I mean” She said quietly, “You are wrong, you’re simply twisting facts to fit whatever it suits you to think. Besides, none of you have ever even seen a Titan. What are you afraid of? If you’re so afraid to fight for your own survival than help me. You cowards” Nora realised that by the end she had gone off topic and that that probably wasn’t the wisest thing to say but she was tired, tired of them and those like them.
“Weapons ready” Commanded the leader of the Military Police, frantic look in his eye.
Then Corporal Levi’s boot connected with her jaw. She could feel and hear the bones in her lower head crack and saw a tooth fly from her mouth. But she didn’t have time to process the pain as the Corporal kicked her again, this time in the stomach. Nora was badly winded and started to wheeze.
But the beating continued.
A knee to the face, a wrench of her hair, the stamp of his foot on her thigh and the loud crunching sound as it broke. He continued for a minute or two, although to Nora it felt like hours. Finally, the Corporal paused as he stamped Nora’s head into the ground.
“This is a personal opinion. But I believe pain to be the best way to train someone. What you need is to be trained like a dog, not a human. It’s easier to kick you while you’re kneeling, too”
The Corporal restarted his punishment, landing hit after hit and making her jerk like a ragdoll.
“Wait, Levi” Cautioned the Military Police Commander
“What is it?” The Corporal retracted the sole of his shoe from Nora’s face
“That’s dangerous. What if she gets angry and turns into a Titan?”
Another kick, the man plunged his hand into Nora’s matted dark blond locks and pulled, showing the crowd her dazed, bruised and bleeding face “And you think she isn’t going to get angry about being dissected? When she first turned into a Titan, she killed twenty others before collapsing. If she is an enemy, her intelligence makes her a more formidable foe…still no match for me, of course. But what will you do? Consider that fact before ‘angering’ her” Do you really think you can kill her?
Commander Smith raised his hand, “Sir, I have a proposal”
“Yes?” Drawled the commander-in-chief
“The details of Argmann’s Titan power remain uncertain. Making it dangerous. Thus, I purpose that Corporal Levi take responsibility for her control, and embark on an expedition outside the Walls”
“With Argmann in tow?”
“Yes Sir. Based on the expedition’s results, I’d like you to judge whether Nora Argmann can control her Titan power. And whether he is a boon or a bane to humanity”
“Control Nora Argmann…Can you do it, Levi?”
The Corporal responded coldly, “I’m certain I can kill her. The only problem is I doubt I can do any less”
“Then my decision is made”
“Explain why you forming and controlling the Titan requires specific orders from me”
“I could form the Titan because you’re orders force me to focus on a single goal, it’s very difficult to do that otherwise unless the goal is to kill every Titan I can find”
“And? Explain why you needed me to control it?”
Corporal Levi glared, “Cadet”
“Fine fine” Nora sighed, “My Titan has a crush on you”
“…. What? Your Titan has I was under the impression you and it had the same mind”
“We do. Basically. The Titan behaves like I would if I were a 5 year old again” She raised her hands defensively, ”To me, you’re just my superior officer whom I respect greatly. But to her, you’re the amazing green-blur who can speak no evils and do no wrongs”
“And your Titan is prepared to follow my orders because of this?”
“Yes, you’re her hero. My Titan is desperate to please you”
“What if I’m not there, could you control it then?”
“It’s difficult. Every little impulse screams are me. Like I said, I can focus on killing Titans quite easily, that’s been by goal for so long already, but anything else could be problematic. On the plus side, my impulses aren’t malicious, just childish. Without you or Titans around I’m essentially just a giant toddler in that form”
“You attacked your friend, Raph was it?”
Nora shook her head, “I remember it better now. I was scared after I transformed so I was trying to give Raph a hug, like I did when we were younger” Nora looked down at her arms, “If I’d succeed in capturing him, then I probably would had crushed him to death…”
Corporal Levi nodded, a calculating look on his face, “All in all, this is a good thing. We have a method, at least for now, of controlling your Titan power. Still, we have to make you less dependant on me in case for any reason I’m not around”
They tried again, to test Titan Noras limits and see how fine-tuned her control was
“Nora, I’m ordering you to make a military salute”
“Yes Sir” Nora blocked out all other thought and bit savagely into her hand
A moment later, the 15-meter Titan-Nora was there, left hand to her chest. She looked expectantly down at the Corporal as if to say ‘there wasn’t I good Mr Corporal Levi’
The Corporal nodded, privately thinking that he hated children. “Now, I want you to tear up that tree” He pointed to an pine tree on the edge of the clearing.
With a roar of glee Titan-Nora bounded over, grabbed the trunk, and heaved the evergreen out of the ground like a gardener picking weeds. After that, she bound back over to Levi and dropped the tree by feet.
“Good” Titan-Nora beamed, “Now I want you to kill Hanji Zoe”
“Hey- Levi” Protested Hanji
Titan-Nora froze, looking conflicted an about to cry. She pointed over to Hanji and gestured with her hands to show she was small, as if trying to make sure the Corporal knew that Hanji wasn’t a Titan.
“I know. Do it.” He barked,
Titan-Nora just looked back and forth between Hanji and Levi. Then suddenly, she curled into a ball and began to sob, buckets worth of tears rolling down her face.
“Do it Nora”
She just sobbed louder until finally he relented, “Fine, you don’t have to do it anymore”
She looked up at him as if he were a merciful god. Hanji Zoe breathed a sigh of relief
“Now I want you to fight me”
Titan-Nora looked dumbstruck, she folded her arms and pouted, turning her head away from him.
“Only sparing, play fighting, I won’t hurt you and you won’t hurt me. I promise” Corporal Levi hated having to soften his tone but admitted watching Nora act like this was somewhat amusing.
Titan-Nora nodded reluctantly and assumed a fighting stance Levi guessed she’d learn as a trainee. He noted that she retained fighting skills learnt as a human and told himself to get her combat training later
Suddenly he charged. While he meant what he’d said about not hurting her; this exercise was partially to make sure he could kill her. Levi fired his hooks into her shoulder and preceded to try the simple routines he used for regular Titans first. It failed though as she swung round, trying to catch him in her huge hands.
Levi went flying but quickly regained his balance by anchoring himself to her chest. Titan-Nora tried to carefully swat him away, causing the Corporal to scowl, she clearly going all out. Then he had an idea,
“If you don’t fight me properly, I’ll tell Greta you think she’s fat” Corporal Levi had no intention of doing any such thing but it worked
She roared at him in indignation and furiously tried to punch him. The Corporal danced around her first though, finding behind her body. He needed was get to her neck. He propelled himself up until he was looking down at where her hair flowed past her shoulders. There it was, her weak spot. He was about to slash down when she brought up a hand to protect herself.
Levi was surprised, he’d never fought a Titan with enough intellect to defend it’s self before. Titan-Nora then started running, Levi barely managing to cling on with his gear. She picked up the pine tree she’d uprooted earlier and swept a hand from its base to the tip, forming a makeshift bat. She tried to swat him off her back as if he was some hard-to-reach itch.
The Corporal growled, he needed to switch tactics. He caught sight of the wrist holding the tree aloft and had an idea. With stunning speed, he severed her hand, making Titan-Nora cry out in pain. Levi had to remind himself that the appendage would grow back to avoid flinching. He then cut through her other wrist, which had connected to a hand blocking her neck. With a battle cry, he plunged his sword down slightly left of centre, to avoid any of her human body’s major organs.
Titan=Nora cried out again but well limp as Levi hurriedly cut Nora from her Titan body. He heaved her out and dropped to the ground, her barely-conscious body thrown over his shoulder. He set her down and, just before she passed out, she looked up at him and said,
“You’re a really mean blur, you know that…?”