Where is this?
Grey-brown rock ceiling arched low above his sleep-hooded eyes. A cave. He was in a cave but not an uninhabited one. The walls were bathed in the orange glow of fire from a vast pit in the centre of the uneven floor. The cave was oval shaped, wide in the centre and narrow towards the entrance and the back.
His shrewd eyes immediately noticed he was alone. His mind flew through scenarios as best as he could through his fever. He was on a scruffy mattress covered by an equally shameful duvet.
He stained to sit up and throw back the cover, agitating wounds on his torso and left arm as he did so. He was naked except for what looked like a very large man’s shirt, unnervingly; someone had stripped him while he was asleep. Moreover, they’d tended to his injuries. His lower torso was tightly cocooned in bandages, as was his left bicep. The cuts across his legs and sternum had been coated in some unidentifiable beige paste; it smelt woody, like moss and tree-bark. Underneath the smell of medicine was the stench of infection, cloyingly sweat and putrid, emanating from his wounded stomach. He decided to ignore his wounds for now, instead focusing on his surroundings.
Whoever owned the cave was a bizarre decorator. Miss-matched objects lay across the walls and the floor; tapestries, carpets, paintings, broken wall-clocks and even a vast stag bust, whose branching antlers stretched out across the back wall.
Great he thought morosely my saviour’s a madman.
Around the edges of the cave, away from the central fire, lay the person’s furniture. There were chests, tables and craft-benches along with a well-stocked bookshelf, they all looked used, with items sprawled haphazardly here and there. Next to the fire pit as a worn-looking armchair and more low blocks for what he imaged was food preparation. All in all, despite its strangeness, the cave was homely and that wasn’t a word he was used to especially in titan territory.
He reached down to pick up a bowl of soup and spoon lying next to his bed. It was lukewarm, whoever made it having clearly left before he awoke, and Levi noticed it was just as unidentifiable as the balm applied to his cuts. Despite this, it looked innocuous enough although he was naturally distrustful. Levi evaluated the broth; if whoever owned the cave had spent time and effort to healing him, then it was safe to assume they wouldn’t then poison his food.
With a sigh, he took a tentative sip. It seemed edible. He could detect the taste of leaks and…meat? He fished apiece out with his spoon. It was small and it didn’t taste like anything animal he regularly ate. Levi finished the rest of his meal quickly, his injury spurring on hunger.
Stomach filled, the infection he noticed earlier returned to the forefront of his mind. It was worrisome, infected wounds that deep were a menacing even in the best of situations; he knew enough first-aid to recognise the risk to his life.
He couldn’t afford to be incapacitated. Levi was not foolish enough to trust his mysterious caretaker. What if they were legitimately insane? What if they were an exiled criminal? What if the care had conditions? He mulled over the nature of his host countless times. The worst part was that with his wounds and without a Maneuverer Gear or a horse he was completely helpless, he wouldn’t be able to make it very far. How who ever lived here managed to survive, seemingly alone, amongst titans was beyond him.
With a sigh, he decided he didn’t have many options other than operating with his rescuer and interrogating them when he was able. He decided to just sleep for the time being.
From the entrance to the cave a pair of wide green eyes watched him drift off.
The next day he awoke once more. He noticed his bandages had been changed while he’d slept and a plate of bread and vegetables was next to him. It was aggravating, before he thought that maybe he’d just awoken while his carer was out. Now it was obvious whoever it was going out of their way to be gone while he was conscious.
The paraphernalia around the cave had moved slightly, as though someone had been busy in here recently, Levi noted with a scowl. More significantly, his infected stomach wound seemed to be getting worse, his fever as well. He sighed and laid back down after wolfing down the food, he was tired, oh so very tired.
The eyes were there as before, this time bunched up in worry
There! Levi’s hand shot out, wrapping around a slender ankle
The woman cried out and went tumbling to the carpeted floor, sending her cargo of messy bandages and a plate flying. He didn’t give her time to recover as he crawled out of bed and straddled her with laboured breathing; it was painful just to move, characteristically, Levi refused to let his face show his feelings.
“Who. Are. You” He demanded at the struggling woman, her limbs thrashed frantically like a wounded animal and she whimpered in…fear? “Answer Me,” He growled, earning a round of sobs
Finally having enough of her panic he swift clasped a hand to the woman’s chin, bringing her head to face his. “I will not hurt you. Now tell me who you are, where we are and why you helped me”
“Nora” She panted in fright, “I’m Nora” She squeaked
He nodded his head at Nora, her name wasn’t particularly helpful but at least he could now identify his carer. He said firmly, but carefully not to scare her, “Carry on”
“We’re ne-near where I fou-, where you wer- collaps-“ Her dishevelled words trailed off as she seemed to lose her nerve and start to break down, it took a moment before she collected herself, “I need to g-go, you ne-need medicine and I hav-ve to get it”
Levi felt his strength failing him, the exertion of keeping her frantic body still taking its toll.
The next time he opened his eyes, he was considerably closer to the fire and his stomach wound had be re-wrapped in some kind of thin-bandage. He could see material compressed underneath the cloth and released Nora must have applied some kind of poultice. Amazingly enough, he did feel better, to the extent that be wanted to wheeze instead of groan in pain, at least. He observed that Nora had removed the duvet to allow the air to get to the bandage sit, hence why he was closer to the fire.
Predictably enough though, the woman herself was nowhere to be found. He wondered ideally if he’d ever see her again, for all her quirks Nora seemed too intelligent to fall for the same trick twice. He thought back to her yesterday, she was young, maybe twenty-one with wild yet straight black hair exploding from her head. He’d not had time to analyse her fully but surmised she must be fit, to survive as she did. Levi imagined he would have to recover significantly to win in a fight, without the advantage of surprise he’d had in their last encounter.
Her survival was another question. From the looks of her cave, Nora had survived in titan territory at least for a long-term probably since Wall Maria was breached. How could she survive alone when countless Survey Corps members died on each mission? Most of her furniture, décor and perhaps some non-perishable food seemed like it had been scavenged. But even that was impressive if she had to venture out in the open. The cave itself was another thing, where was it? He’d seen titans tear away trees and debris in their hunt for humans and the cave was only just longer than the reach of a 15-meter-class. From his vantage near the fire he could see the cave must’ve been on high ground, for there was nothing visible through the cave-mouth.
Puzzled and no closer to understand the puzzle that was his rescuer, Levi gulped down his food as usual and drifted back into sleep.
He was bored.
It was a common misconception that Corporal Levi of Survey Corps was perpetually bored. This was untrue. He just had a naturally disinterested face and a found people annoying. But, as the perpetual disease-fuelled stupor of sleep faded away, he spent more and more of each day awake with nothing to do. At first, he tried to fill his long days with productive theorisation on his host but her lack of appearance meant he just thought round and around in circles. Finally, his eyes drifted over to her bookshelf.
He wasn’t an overly keen reader, preferring to spend his free-time training or cleaning. However, he was too injured to do either and felt unsure about how his host would react to him cleaning her rat-hole anyway. But reading, he could do. If only he could get to that goddamn bookshelf. He also thought he might be able to glean something about the woman from her choice of reading material.
He eased himself unto his feet and slowly but surely tottered over to the wall. It was more physically activity than he’d managed in over a week and for once he was glad the woman was gone. He reached the bookshelf and scanned the spines.
To Levi’s surprise, only a few on the bottom shelf seemed to be fiction. Everything else was either notebooks or non-fiction. The non-fiction books were all on logical topics; titans, survival, cooking, woodwork…etc. What astonished Levi was their rarity, Nora couldn’t possibly have scavenged tomes like these from the nearby rural villages, they must have been retrieved from cities, presumably Shiganshina as it was the only city ringing Wall Maria that was unblocked by Wall. This meant that Nora could go that far which also meant she could probably return to civilisation if she wished.
Levi had believed Nora was here because she couldn’t reach Wall Rose. But if she was secure enough that she could travel to Shiganshina for books then Nora should’ve been able to get to the border towns of Wall Rose and get the attention of the Garrison stationed there. It seemed Nora had chosen her solitary life. More curious than ever, Levi reached for the notebooks and read the first page
Hypothesis: Smell is the Titan’s primary method of detecting humans
17/09/845 – Titan responds to sweat-soaked cloth in field, no other human stimuli present
29/09/845 – Between a sweat and urine cloth soaked and a life-like mannequin, the Titan seems to prefer the former
10/10/845 – After smearing animal fat, urine and blood on my cloths I am able to approach closer to Titans without sign of detection
15/10/845 – A repeat of the incident on 10/10/845
1/11/845 – A non-aberrant type titan that seems to have debris up its nose, after observation, it’s strays farther from the towns of Wall Rose than others
The journal continued until mid 846, when a note is scribbled link this entry in others that were do to with Titans sense of smell. Levi flicked through the rest of the journal, stunned. Other hypothesises ranged from the Titan impalement to problem solving capabilities. Hanji would die for this he thought all too seriously. It appeared this girl had spent the last 3 years studying Titans in the field, exactly the kind of thing Hanji wished she were able to do.
A gasp filled the air a moment before a hand snatched the notebook away from him. Nora looked an odd mix of scandalised, scared and sorry.
“You research Titans” He glared at her, “Why?” Some of her hypothesises he could see being relevant to her survival but others were just frivolous
The woman just squeaked
Finally she found her voice, “Uh, well, its no-none of yo-your bus-business”
Levi would have been taken aback by her sudden backbone if she hadn’t shrank back immediately afterwards like a schoolgirl waiting for a telling off. He watched her for a while, cataloguing her expression, it seemed that she was determined not to tell him however terrified his very presence made her. Besides, he needed her cooperative if she was going to help him and making her more skittish wouldn’t help
With a sigh, he stalked (or rather hobbled) to the armchair by the fire. His eyes pointedly slid to the nearby bed, silently telling Nora to have a seat
“This is tiresome. Answer my questions”
Nora looked forlornly towards the entrance of the cave before finally coming towards him like he was an executioner. Stiffly, she sat down at the foot of the bed, a fill 4 or so meters from him, blocked from view by the fire.
“Move closer” Levi commanded in annoyance, causing her to edge closer to him along the bed. Still irritated by the excessive distance, he sighed, “Fine. Why have you not evacuated to inside Wall Rose?”
Nora seemed slightly calmer than the other times they’d spoken, “Too many people there”
Levi’s brow arched, “You’re worried about food shortages?”
“N-no, people just sc-sca, um, agitate me”
So she was a hermit, a rather extreme hermit at that. That certainly accounted for her sheer terror whenever he was awake
Three reasons to scavenging is dangerous
It means towns which:
1. Require staying in one place, making it more likely a titan will find you
2. Walls make it easy for titans to detect
3. Heavy loads make it hard to move