Disclaimer: I do not own Attack on Titan or this story.
Summary: The Survey Corps group returns and watches Attack on Titan Season 3 Part II. [No Pairings]
READ THIS!This story will contain manga-relatedSPOILERSand isNOTfor ANIME watchers! It is thesequelto "Power to Strive" and "Power to Strive II" so read those two first or you'll be lost and confused!
"You're going to wear a hole into the ground."
Eren continued pacing in the empty mess hall. "What if the commander can't make it in time? What if he's five minutes late and the TV won't start?"
"He'll make it," Petra told him. "And if he doesn't, I'm sure the TV will still work."
I hope so.There were so many things yet to be discovered, so many questions still left unanswered. Not for the first time, his mind went over the strange memories that had left his younger self in tears in the first episode. No matter how much he wracked his brain Eren couldn't figure it out. Armin and Mikasa were equally stumped about it. "Hopefully, after everything that went down the past week, these future episodes will still be relevant."
"It would have been nice if they adjusted to the changes we've made so far, they would be more accurate, but we shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth."
"Yeah, I guess. We still have an overwhelming advantage."
"We should get going now," Petra said, standing. "Everyone else should be there already."
As a precaution, they'd decided to arrive at the room in separate groups and at different times. No one was willing to compromise the TV at any cost.
To their relief, everyone else was already present, including the commander, who had fortunately made it back from his trip just in time.
Sasha and Connie already had their plates piled with food, of course.
Everyone went to their respective spots. Jean, Armin, Mikasa, and Eren took the middle couch. On the left couch sat Sasha, Connie, Historia, and Ymir. Over on the right couch, Petra, Levi, Hange, and Erwin made themselves comfortable
"How's the package?" Levi asked the commander.
"Nice and secure under the watchful eye of Pixis and Mike's squad."
"We were worried for a bit there that you wouldn't make it." Hange held up the card in her hand. "Or someone might see this."
"Tell me about it," Jean said, patting his jacket's breast pocket. "I was so paranoid I took mine into the showers." He and the others hadn't wanted to risk tossing the cards into the fire in case it would un-invite them.
I hope the future is still predictable and controllable from the changes we made.Armin had laid awake in bed, running through all kinds of scenarios in his head, but ultimately, without watching the upcoming future episodes, they wouldn't know if it was still salvageable.
"Things went mostly according to plan." Historia mentally went over the differences between what they had seen on the TV and what had actually gone down. "And it was a considerable improvement over how things went originally."
"I'll say." At least half his family was alive this time, which Connie was eternally grateful for.
"Same." Ymir shrugged and said, "I'm still alive. Don't need to keep my secret from you all. Can't really complain." Although she still felt a kernel of guilt about leaving Reiner and the others to hang and dry. She'd made her decision and was sticking with it, though.
"It would be nice if the TV would show us more of what the Marleyans are planning." Mikasa was interested to learn more about their military structure. Based off of what Ymir had shared with them, the Warriors were notable figures, Marley's greatest weapons. "A good place to start to devastate them and begin crippling their military power is by taking more of the nine Titan powers for ourselves," she said.
"Agreed." Erwin hoped Reiner and Bertolt were still on the island. Possibly the Beast Titan, too. He didn't think Marley would be foolish enough to place all their eggs in one basket. Which meant the Survey Corps at least had a shot—a real chance thanks to the TV—to take those Titan powers from Marley if they played their cards right.
"Let's get started, then," Hange said, feeling amped up.
The excited whispers quickly hushed, eager to begin.
"Welcome, everyone! Let's dive right into, shall we?"Candy cleared her throat. "Wall Maria contained one-third of humanity's remaining territory,"she said, an image showed of the Colossal Titan peeking over Wall Maria.
Of course. Jean thought, sighing.Gotta begin with the symbol of our misery.
"Five years ago, when humanity lost this territory, from within the remaining two Walls, they realized: That they are not meant to continue living."Worn down tents filled the screen with despairing, starving people occupying them. The Armored Titan rammed through Maria's inner gate."After all, humanity cannot defeat the Titans."
"I'm going to drive out every last one from this world," a young Eren declared, crying.
"However, one young man gripped that small blade held in his heart…and thrust it into a Titan, pounding its massive head into the ground."Mikasa took down an Abnormal Titan while a crowd of civilians watched her, stunned."When humanity saw this, what did they think?"
Next scene showed Mikasa gripping a broken sword, about to face off against a Titan without functioning gear."Some were proud."Armin smiled."Some held hope."In the stomach of a Titan, Eren held up his stump of an arm."Some cried out in anger."
An orange sun lit up Wall Maria with Eren, Mikasa, and Armin looking over the horizon.
"Wait, what is that thing?" Petra asked, eyeing the structure running along the length of the Wall.
Jean squinted, trying to figure it out. "It's kinda hard to tell." The shadows from the setting sun were masking a lot of it.
"Maybe it's for maintenance or something?" Eren offered, more interested in what was to come rather than a rundown of things they'd already seen.
"This must be at least a few months into the future," Hange said, taking into account how long it would take to get permission from the Royal Government to make such an addition to the Wall then physically building that machine. "Probably more."
"Let's keep watching," Levi suggested, curious about the machine himself but he assumed they'd show it again if it was important.
"Wait, just give me one sec." Hange started to make a rough sketch.This would be so much easier if Moblit were here, she thought, missing her righthand man.
"Maybe the Garrisons are working on something," Historia said and they fell into a discussion, trying to guess what it was.
While the rest speculated about the machine, Erwin weighed the pros and cons of seeing a future that wouldn't happen for months at least, maybe even longer. They could plan well in advance but they also had to be careful about actually getting to that specific future. With the 57th Expedition and Ymir's retrieval, they were only days away from that future out in the real world when they watched it happen on TV. It was easy to manipulate things so the future would remain predictable enough then, their future knowledge of the events still very relevant. But with more time came more choices, thus an increase in the chances of the future being drastically altered if they unknowingly made different decisions.It might not be as easy this time, getting things to go our way.
"Okay, I'm good," Hange declared when she finished.
"Then, if Wall Maria was retaken, what would humanity cry out?"Civilians watched from the ground as lifts carried soldiers and horses up to the top of the Wall."Would they finally start believing that humanity deserves to live?"
Erwin mounted his horse. A legion of soldiers watched him. "Advance!" Erwin led the charge.
"That their fate is something they can decide?"Jean, Sasha, and Connie rode together. Then appeared Eren, Mikasa, and Armin, followed by Hange and Levi."Will it be enough for them to believe? If only Wall Maria was retaken…"
And suddenly it clicked. "I think we might be watching the mission to retake Wall Maria," Armin rushed out in excitement.
"You really think we're here?" Sasha paused, then began eating quickly.
"Good idea." Connie began shoveling food into his mouth.
"What're you two doing?" Historia asked, quirking her eyebrows at their behavior.
"Filling up before things go to shit and kill our appetites," Connie explained with a full mouth. "Let's not forget the disaster that was the original 57th Expedition."
Jean prepared himself for the worst. "We could all die. This might be the end for us."
"Don't be so gloom and doom, Jean-boy."
"Don't get a big head just because you've got the Founding Titan, Eren. You can't use its full power."
"All that time planning and hoping, we're finally here," Petra marveled. "Well, sort of."
"Frankly, it just feels good knowing we've made it," Hange said, satisfied.
Silvery-white light shone from flashlights as the soldiers moved through the forest in the middle of the night. Hoods up, they continued in silence.
"What're they using?" Armin inquired, immediately interested in the contraption.
"Not torches. The light's white and too concentrated," Ymir said, curiosity clear in her voice. "I've never seen anything like it."
Historia was amazed at the neat little tool. "Just how far ahead in the future is this?"
"How fascinating. I wonder what they're made of. Gotta takes notes." Hange began writing. She wondered if there would be clues to when and how such a nifty little invention came to be.
"They seem a lot more effective than torches," Erwin noted, mind racing with all the potential uses of the gadget. "It would help make traveling through the night easier. Which means fewer casualties since the majority of the Titans won't be active without the sun."
Levi glanced back when a soldier behind him cried out in surprise. "
Whoa!" The soldier tried to calm his horse as his flashlight went rolling on the ground.
"Hey! You've gotta light up the ground!" Levi scolded him.
"S-Sorry," he replied quickly.
"We're not at the foot yet?" Levi asked the man next to him. "It's almost dawn."
"Once we're over this mountain, Shiganshina's right there," Dirk responded, shining his light on the small folded map in his hand.
"It's finally happening." It seemed too surreal to Eren. All those years, dreaming of this one thing, and they were about to watch it happen.
Home. Mikasa felt an odd ache in her chest.We're going home.
"I don't feel ready for this." Sasha took a deep breath, hand over her heart.
"I know." Armin felt a mixture of nerves and anticipation. "I'm getting jittery just watching it."
"Sorry you're stuck with my horse," Eren said to Mikasa.
"You're supposed to be saving your energy," she responded in a quiet voice.
"Yeah, I know."
"She's right," Connie spoke up from behind them. "Rest up, Eren."
"Don't say his name, idiot," Jean chided him.
"Oh, yeah, sorry."
"Assume this place is swarming with enemies." Jean then noticed something and his expression twisted in surprised horror. "Titan on the left!" Jean said loudly. "Everyone halt!"
"Light up the area!"
Three beams of light hit the silent Titan, who sat against a small pile of earth, not moving a muscle. The sound of blades being unsheathed cut through the air.
"The expeditions would be so much easier and less lethal if we had those to light our way at night and we could kill the Titans while they slept on in ignorance," Historia said.
"Maybe." Jean imagined how the nightly incursions would go. "We'd have to find the Titans first and might need to turn their bodies to expose their napes. It'd be very slow and tedious work but in the long run, it'd be effective and definitely a lot safer." If they'd invented those things years ago, it may have worked.But we just don't have the time for a slow, steady approach now. Not to mention there's bigger fish to fry.
"It's alright," Hange said. "He's fast asleep. This lad must not be one of those new types that move at night."
"And I guess there's the night Titans to worry about." Historia shuddered at the thought of stumbling upon a creepy Titan in the darkness.
Hange let out a low chuckle. "That's too bad. Let him be."
Eren stared at the Titan as they walked past it. "I can't believe we didn't see it until we were so close to it," he said.
"Yeah, I'm with you there. This moonless night must be protecting us," Hange theorized. "Light from the moon is reflected sunlight. The new type of Titan… We think they use that minuscule amount of reflected light to move. Using the new moon was the right move."
A flashback of Titans walking around Utgard Castle's ruins appeared.
Connie and Historia cringed. "That was not fun," he muttered, remembering it.
"There's no guarantee we won't have a repeat of before. That lad may be one of those 'Moonlight Titans' for all we know." Light reflected off her glasses and Hange smiled, her tone pitching as she said dreamily, "Hope we capture one someday!"
Behind her, Eren stared at the grass in front of him. His hand, which gripped the flashlight, trembled.I'm shaking? Why? What am I so scared of? Shit…Darkness surrounded him completely as he began to descend into uncertainty.If I screw up retaking Wall Maria because I'm like this, what then?! How many people will lose hope forever?
"I'm so glad I'm not in your guys' shoes." Sasha felt like hiding just at thought of the heavy burden Eren and Ymir had to bear, being their sole inheritors of Titan power. She was so glad they no longer expected her to take the Female Titan's power.You might not becompletelyout of the woods just yet, an inner voice pointed out.
You have more reasons to be glad than you think.Ymir thought to herself at Sasha's words. There was just one secret left she was keeping from them—aside from Erwin and Hange. And probably Levi. Ymir was almost certain they'd have told him. In any case, she couldn't wait until they all knew. It sucked seeing their bright, hopeful faces, so optimistic about the future, and knowing how distraught they would be once they found out her and Eren's days were numbered, and there was no changing that.
There won't be a chance like this ever again! Am I not cut out for it after all?Doubt filled Eren's inner voice.Someone like me? How can I save humanity? Someone like me? How?His left hand gripped the wrist of his right arm, which kept shaking.
"Eren…" Mikasa's eyes widened.
"What are you shaking for?" Armin asked, leaning in. "Are you scared?"
"Huh?! I'm not scared!" Eren said defensively, brows furrowed.
"Anyone would be in that situation."
"I'm scared and I'm not even there."
"Huh? You're kidding… Look at your hand."
"This is… It's cold!" Eren did not sound at all convincing. "My hand's freezing!"
Mikasa watched them without a word.
"Really? My whole body's been shaking this whole time." Armin held up his trembling hand for display. "See?"
Eren stared it.
"Eren, have you ever been afraid of Titans? Normally, everyone's terrified of them. Like me… The first time I faced a Titan, I couldn't move a muscle. But…there I was… And you pulled me right out of a Titan's mouth." Armin remembered Eren gripping his wrist to keep him from sliding further into the Titan's mouth. "How were you able to do something like that?"
After a few moments of silence, Eren finally answered. "I remembered…the time you showed me that book. Up until then, I never once thought about what was outside the Walls."
A young Eren sat, watching the clouds."I just spent every day staring at the clouds and the sky."Armin ran up to Eren, showing him a book."But then, I heard your story and looked into your eyes. You were seeing an awesome dream."LittleArmin smiled, explaining the book giddily to his best friend."But I had nothing. That's when I knew. I wasn't free."The two boys poured over the book between them.
"Trapped in a small cage in a huge world, my freedom stolen by those unthinkable fiends."Little Eren lay in his bed, the sheet pulled up to his nose, wide awake."When I realized that, I couldn't forgive them."He clenched the sheet tightly.
Sasha chuckled, "Eren, you adorable little psycho."
"You were so cute as a kid," Historia said, smiling.
"I just wanna pinch his cheeks. Bet he'd get all mad and huffy." Connie laughed at the image in his head.
"Can we stay on track here, people?" Levi said before the conversation had a chance to devolve.
Back in the present, they continued walking through the dark forest. "I don't know why, but when it comes to taking back freedom… Yes… Strength flows through me." Eren removed his hand from his wrist. No longer did his hand shake and he smiled. "Thanks for that," he said, voice steady. "I'm good now."
"Mmm." Armin nodded.
"I bet, by this time next year, we'll be looking at the ocean."
Mikasa stopped, checking their surroundings. "I recognize this area." Nine-year-old Mikasa carried firewood on her back as Eren touched his face, surprised by the tears, and sunlight shone off beautiful purple flowers. "I think…we came here for firewood."
Eren looked up at the trees.
It reminded Armin of Eren's weird dream. Hopefully, the TV would shed some light on it. He'd yet to come up with any decent idea of what that had been. It was one thing for someone like Eren and Ymir to remember their predecessor's memories, but what they saw in the first episode was something else.
"I can see the foot!" A man's voice came from ahead. "There's signs of a trail!"
"It's so close," Eren said, exchanging a look with Mikasa.
"I can hear the river," Mikasa observed.
"Finally, we're back…" Armin said. "The first time…since we fled from here. Back to our hometown…"
"It's been a long time coming," Mikasa said in anticipation. It was what they had been training and striving for many years.Now it's happening. Would they succeed or fail? How many soldiers would lose their lives? Would she watch herself or Eren or Armin perish? There was always the possibility that none of them would make it out alive.
The soldiers were close to the edge of the forest. Past the forest was a green, grassy field. The town at the base of the northern side of Wall Maria appeared as the sky began to lighten. Then appeared an overhead shot of the abandoned Wall Maria.
Slowly, the sound of horse hooves thundering across the grounds rose in volume during the early morning.
"Be on guard for Titans hiding in the shadows!" Erwin advised and threw out an arm to the side. "Our operation begins now! All troops, switch to the 3D gear!"
The soldiers stood on their horses and began to take to the skies. Wires pulled the soldiers, taking them over the Wall.
"My palms are sweaty already." Sasha wiped her hands on her pants.
Connie nodded. "I know. My heart's racing too."
"I wonder where I am in the formation." Historia had yet to see herself.
"Come to think of it, where are you?" Jean couldn't remember seeing the short girl anywhere. Then again, they had only just seen the commander. Historia would probably show up soon enough.
"Strange. But not all the rookies are in one place. Maybe you're with another group," Armin suggested.
Ymir wondered if it was too much to ask that Historia had maybe quit the military and decided to live a nice, quiet, and safe life as a civilian.Probably not.
"There's two gates we must seal—the inner and outer,"Erwin's voice narrated. An animated drawing of Wall Maria and its territory appeared. Two red circles appeared, one on the inner gate and one on the outer."With that, Shiganshina will be isolated. We'll exterminate any Titans left inside."Red Xs crossed out the Titan drawings.
Balancing on his horse, Levi pulled out his swords."If the enemy knows our plan, they'll go straight after Eren, but…"Levi and the soldiers behind him shot into the air."We'll have hoods covering the faces of all hundred of our soldiers."
Erwin landed in a crouch atop the Wall. Behind the commander, over a dozen soldiers appeared."By the time they find out who Eren is, we'll have the outer gate plugged."
"How exactly do we plan on doing that?" Connie asked suddenly. "Has Eren mastered hardening? Or are we trying to do something like we did in Trost? Closing the gate using a massive boulder."
"That would have taken quite a lot of time to set up though, wouldn't it?" Mikasa couldn't recall anything about getting another boulder ready they could close Wall Maria with.
"While we're not sureexactlyhow far in the future this is, it must be at least several months. Plus it'd take considerably less time to have a boulder that size readied with Eren's Titan helping out." Erwin thought about the many other different uses Titans had with their size and strength.They could help rebuild houses, clear debris, and pave roads and lands. After they reclaimed Wall Maria, if they could attain perfect control over the Pure Titans, it would be a tremendous help to have the giants get the people back on their feet. It would only be fitting. Undoubtedly, Ymir and Eren would probably also be happy about using their Titans to build and create rather than only cause death and destruction.
Eren scaled the Wall and stood, looking out into the distance of his former home. Houses appeared in disrepair, and abandoned toys littered the street. His hands shook. Armin and Mikasa also stared when they landed on the Wall.
"Don't stop!" Levi told them as he ran past the trio. "Head for the outer gate!"
"Roger!" Eren took off after him, Armin and Mikasa following.
Armin stopped, noticing blackened residue near the edge of the Wall.This is…the remains of a fire?He raised his arm to grab Erwin's attention.They're here…and close! Bertolt and Reiner!
"Oh shit, we're getting right into it."
"Who're we going to lose this time? How many?"
"I'm not ready for this."
Soldiers flew alongside the Wall, toward the outer gate.My house is right around there.Eren thought, eyeing a neighborhood near the water.That's where…we left everything behind.
Carla, Mikasa, Eren, and Grisha sat at the dining table.
The image energized Eren. He didn't feel nostalgic or an empty hole in his chest he usually did at the happy reminders of their old lives, their blissfully ignorant selves. Instead, he felt hopeful and impatient to retake his home and build new happy memories.
Eren looked back to see Mikasa flying, gaze focused ahead.It's okay,he thought,I'll take it all back!
At Wall Maria's outer gate, soldiers peered through spyglasses, acting as lookouts. "This is all too strange… Not a single Titan in sight?" Hange stood next to Levi.
Two soldiers were stationed at the base of the hole outside Wall Maria.
"That makes me more nervous than if there was a swarm of them," Petra said warily, wondering where the mindless giants had wandered off to. "What if it's a trap?"
"It most likely is a trap," Levi answered, shrugging. "Presumably they've been hanging around this area for a while now, if Armin automatically assumed the remains of that fire was because of the Warriors."
"Meaning they've had sufficient time to set up an ambush," Hange concluded.
"But we have to keep going," Levi said to Hange.
"Yeah, there's no reason to call it off." Hange searched through her jacket's inner pocket and pointed the flare gun at the sky, firing off a green smoke round. Trails of green smoke began to float up around the Wall.
I can do this!Eren flew determinedly toward the smoke.No… We can do this!Mikasa, Armin, then Hange, Levi, and Erwin, then Jean, Sasha, and Connie, along with all the other soldiers, had their eyes on Eren.Because we've all been special since the day we were born! We're free!
"I don't see a boulder anywhere," Ymir observed, trying and failing to find one. There was no way something large enough to plug the hole would be so easily hidden.
Eren hovered far above Wall Maria. Biting his hand, he transformed. Lightning erupted with a resounding boom, shaking the ground.
Bertolt's face appeared, peering through a few holes with light pouring through.
Immediately they began scrutinizing his environment, trying to ascertain any clues as to where he was hiding.
Reiner was surrounded mostly by darkness and narrowed his eyes at the orange light flashing before him.
"They've gotta be in a house, right?" Historia guessed, unable to think what other enclosed space the two could be hiding in.
Connie nodded in agreement. "We would have seen them on the roofs or on the Wall so they must be indoors somewhere."
A crease appeared in Petra's brow, imagining herself in an environment that would allow her to be safely hidden, in darkness, but seeing what was happening outside. "What if they're underground? Like a trap door outside?"
"Maybe," Levi said. "We'll see."
Mikasa, Armin, and the others watched, bracing at the waves caused by Eren's transformation. Stiffening and cracking sounds accompanied the Rogue Titan before his skin began to harden, taking on a blue tint.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Ymir's eyes widened comically. "Since when can you do that?!"
"You did it, Eren! You did it!" Sasha said, cheering loudly. "Holy crap, you actually did it!"
Jean's mouth was hanging open. "I can't believe it. It's done."
"Score one for us!" Historia declared in delight.
Eren stared in disbelief. He had been expecting a long and bitter fight. Death. Tears. Blood. Was it really that easy?
"I always believed you could do it!" Petra beamed happily.
"I can't say the same." Then Levi added, "But good job."
"This is certainly a pleasant surprise," Erwin said with a genuine smile. "We were worried that crystallizing your skin was just not something your Titan was capable of, but I guess our fears were unfounded."
"I must say I've never been happier to be wrong!" Hange said, grinning widely.
"Now you can take Reiner head-on!" Connie threw out a punch. "You can break his armor with yours!"
"We're going to take back our home," Mikasa said, hopeful and resolute.
Armin was elated and placed his hand on Eren's shoulder. "You did it, Eren."
"Yeah, I did." Eren glanced at Mikasa. "We're going to drive them out and take back what they took from us."
With a cry, Eren yanked himself out. The edge of his field of vision began to darken and a shape began to fall toward him.
Mikasa cradled his neck, helping him to his feet and taking him up. Behind them, large veins of bluish crystal covered the hole where Wall Maria's outer gate had once stood.
They cheered and whooped happily at the sight.
"We're finally going to recover human territory from Titans," Hange gushed out. The victory at Trost belonged to the Garrison and the newly graduated trainees. It felt good now to watch the Corps take a step toward victory after so much heartache, failure, and stagnation.
"Don't let your guard down! Keep on the lookout!" Hange ordered while Levi kept an eye out.
"Eren!" Hange ran over to them as the two landed on the Wall.
"How's your 3D gear?" Mikasa asked him.
"It's fine." Eren inspected the machinery. "But I did manage to lose my cloak." Mikasa placed hers around his shoulders. "Thanks." He got to his feet, adjusting the cloak and pulling up the hood.
Mikasa grunted, a small nod.
"The hole?!" Levi called down to the soldiers below.
"Success!" A man on the inside of the outer gate confirmed, shooting off a green flare.
"Nice ass, Eren," Sasha said, snickering.
They began laughing as his face turned beet red. But he was too happy to be all that embarrassed by their teasing.
"Don't celebrate just yet." Levi rained on their parade. "We've still gotta survive the rest of the expedition."
That sobered them down. They may have succeeded in one part, but the mission wasn't over yet. There was still plenty of time for things to go horribly wrong.
"It's plugged alright!" A soldier outside the gate verified as well, also firing a green flare.
"We did it!" Hange smiled. "Eren, you okay?"
"No problems here. I'm ready like we trained."
"I get so tired after one transformation," Eren muttered. To be on his feet and ready for more, especially after using that ability, Eren knew he had to have gone through intense training to get there. It would have required transforming multiple times over a long period of time to build up his stamina so he could be prepared for this battle.
Armin hummed, thinking. "We must have had to fight hard with the Royal Government to get permission for you to transform many times and regularly, too, especially considering what a complete disaster the 57th Expedition was, which was supposed to be kind of a test for you."
"We'll head for the inner gate! While we're on the move, remember to hide your faces!" Hange and the other soldiers began to run.
"I really plugged the hole?" Eren spoke out loud. "And that easily…?"
"You did it," Mikasa confirmed. "Believe in your own power."
"The hole from then…"
Young Eren and his friends watched as the Colossal Titan kicked a hole into the Wall, the resulting force ripping apart homes. The image was replaced by the hardened body of the Rogue Titan.
They felt a spark of thrill and pleasure shoot through them at the successful sealing of the outer gate.
"Not yet!" Levi's voice pulled Eren out of his head. "No matter how much you plug it, they'll break the Wall as long as they live. Until we kill Reiner, Bertolt, and any other enemies, the operation to retake Wall Maria won't end."
"Of course…I know that!"
"Right. It's not over yet." Sasha mentally braced herself.
"I really hope this doesn't end like the original 57th Expedition," Jean groaned. Seemingly a success at first but turning out to be an utter failure in the end.
"Don't jinx it, dude," Connie said.
"The outer gate was a success," Dirk commented, standing with Erwin at Wall Maria's inner gate, watching the twin green smoke trails rise from where the outer gate used to be. "Still, it's odd… There's no attack coming. On the contrary, we've not seen a single Titan so far. Were they not prepared for our sudden assault?"
"We can only hope, but… Considering what Arlert discovered…"
"Hmm?" Dirk and the commander looked to Armin.
"I looked into it. I'm pretty sure someone was camping," Armin reported, crouching before them. "The pot was cold and lights were scattered on the ground."
At the base of the Wall, Armin was on the ground checking discarded items."They were drinking something like black tea."He sniffed the three mugs in his hands.Smells good… What is this drink?
"Could it be some sort of stimulant drug?" Erwin wondered if Marley's Titan scientists had developed some sort of drug to boost their Warriors' powers.
Ymir snorted at their serious faces and said, "It's probably coffee."
"What's coffee?" Hange asked.
"Nectar of the Gods, apparently." When she realized they were taking her words too seriously, looking awed and intrigued, she said, "It's a bitter drink. It has caffeine and can help you stay awake. You can make it sweeter by adding cream and sugar. Never had much of a taste for it, personally speaking. It's a pretty common drink."
"Coffee," Sasha said, mouth watering, fantasizing about its mysterious, sweet taste. "Sounds exotic."
"Sounds bad." Levi sincerely doubted it was better than tea.
Back on the Wall, Armin stood and said, "Also, there were three cups with drops of black liquid in it. At the very least, there were three people atop the Wall."
"Th-Three, you say?!" Dirk straightened.
"Was the metal pot completely cool?" Erwin asked calmly.
"I find that odd."
Armin brought up his hand to his chin. "Agreed."
"Th-The pot?" Dirk asked, lost.
"We charged here at full speed using horses and 3D gear," Erwin started to explain. "Had they noticed our approach by sound or by sight, they'd have two minutes to react. A pot in use wouldn't cool in just two minutes. They had to have known we were coming for five minutes or more," he said. "Meaning they've had plenty of time to prepare for us."
"Th-There must be a scout in addition to the three on the Wall…" Armin said. "No, we have to assume there're many more enemies in hiding."
"Let's hope they didn't bring a whole army," Historia said nervously.
"We would have spotted a force that large," Petra said with a shake of her head. "Besides, then they wouldn't have let us block the outer gate. It would've prevented their soldiers from leaving the Wall and returning to their ship."
"Yeah, remember how the Beast Titan reacted when he saw Mike's gear?" Mikasa asked. "Unlike us, they don't have 3D gear that could be used to climb over the Walls."
Levi nodded. "That's what I was thinking."
"Do you think they purposely waited for Eren to close the hole?" Jean then shared his theory. "Maybe they wanted to make him expend energy. And what about the Pure Titans in that area. There don't seem to be any around, weirdly enough."
"Maybe." Hange inclined her head. "Anything to make Eren weaker and easier to capture. But I wonder if they killed all the Pure Titans." Something was forming in the back of her mind but it slipped before she could grasp it.
"For now," Erwin continued, "locating the enemy is our priority. Arlert, with that brain of yours, you've saved us from disaster countless times. Right now is one of those times we need you."
Armin didn't seem too confident.
Armin gulped, feeling the pressure from even sitting on the couch.
"Take as many soldiers as needed." Erwin waved over a group of soldiers. "Find out if the enemies are hiding near the inner gate or not. As of now, you obey Armin Arlert's commands," he told the group while the teen looked at him, unsure. "Continue the search!"
Armin stared nervously at the stern faces of the men and women before him.
"R-Roger!" The group said in unison to the commander's order.
"We searched the Wall thoroughly!" One male soldier said loudly to Armin.
"What are your orders, Arlert?!" A female soldier asked him.
For a couple of seconds there, Armin froze up, gritting his teeth, then: "Send one group to each side of the Wall! Search all the buildings near the inner gate! Report any findings with an acoustic shell!" He stopped and added, "A-Alright?"
It made them laugh.
"Roger!" The soldiers began to pour off the Wall.
"Another big gamble of yours?" Dirk guessed, eyes following the group leave.
"No," Erwin replied, "he's proven himself. He's one of our greatest weapons."
"I hope I can live up to the exceptions." There was a nervous edge to Armin's voice.
"You've never failed before," Mikasa said assuredly, several of Armin's successful plans saving them in a pinch coming to mind.
"Eren's coming to plug the inner gate." Dirk turned to look at the side. "What now? Pause the operation until we find the enemy?"
Erwin opened his eyes and said, "We continue. We'll lose a prolonged battle in enemy territory. For us, our only chance is with a decisive battle. Besides, if this is all according to the enemy's plan, we'll just have to live with it. In any case, they're not the only ones hiding something." He touched a tube-like metal object half-hidden beneath his cloak.
"What is that?" Mikasa wondered.
Eren perked up. "A new weapon, maybe?"
"I thought I saw a soldier carrying something on his back I hadn't seen before." Ymir had shrugged it off though, thinking nothing of it.
"What do you think it is?" Petra hadn't heard any talk of a new weapon from the Corps of Engineers. Then again, this was months in the future.
"I don't know. But I can't wait to find out!" Hange hoped the TV provided them with a little bit more information about this new toy. Anything to help them get production started earlier.
Now this was the kind of thing Levi was more interested in finding out from the future episodes, along with information about their enemies that could be used against them. "I hope we get to see it in action soon," he said. It would also help them discover any fatal flaws without anyone being hurt.
What do I do?Armin thought, hanging from the Wall as Eren and his group flew alongside it, heading toward the inner gate.Eren's coming to seal the inner gate… And we don't know where the enemy's at! Why haven't they shown even though we plugged the Wall?
Soldiers searched through the broken houses.
Why can't we find them no matter how much we search?Armin touched his head, anxiety clear on his face.This is bad… What now? If we fail…that'll really be the end! It's over. Everything… They always attack us in unthinkable ways we always fail to predict. We're always at a disadvantage because…we simply know nothing about Titans! Always…?Armin glanced up and recalled the Colossal-type Titan they'd seen.
Several gasps came from around the room and they cried out.
"Creepy as always."
"I don't get it. Did he figure something out?"
"The Wall! They're inside the Wall!"
"Of course! They're not solid and filled on the inside. The Titans are standing side by side so there must be spaces between their faces at least."
"I never would have thought about that." Historia paused and started wondering again where she was.We've seen everyone else. Aside from Petra who had already perished in the world they were watching on the TV, everyone else from the room had appeared.Where am I?There was no way she'd quit the military. Even if Ymir leaving with Reiner and Bertolt had left her in crushing despair, rather than leave the military, Historia knew she would have done the opposite and start clinging to the Corps as she used to. To revert to her previous mindset, wanting to make herself valuable so her existence would be considered worthwhile.
"It's difficult to break your thinking from a belief that's practically been set in stone and accepted widely for a century," Armin said. "So it's not surprising it didn't occur to us before that they might be hiding in Wall Maria."
Armin fired off an acoustic shell. The groups returned to the Wall.
"Did you find them, Arlert?! Where are they?!"
"Not yet! Everyone, search the Walls!"
"I told you we already did!"
"There's nowhere to hide!"
"Inside the Walls!" Armin countered, taking them and the commander, who stood at the edge of the group, by surprise.
"Inside the Walls?"
"Yes!" Armin gave a firm nod. "There must be a spot where someone could stay inside for a long time!"
"How do you know that?!"
"It's a hunch," Armin answered, eyes down.
"Do you have any idea what sort of situation we're in?!" A man grabbed his shoulders. "We don't have time to waste on hunches!"
"Think about it!" Armin implored. "The enemy always attacks us using Titan powers in ways we never imagine! If we constrain ourselves to common sense and reason, we'll never be able to gain the upper hand!"
His words earned nods from the group.
The group was startled when Erwin suddenly fired off a red smoke signal.
Armin had a sudden, anxious thought that he would be wrong and the commander's faith in him would be misplaced.Stop that. Regardless of how certain he could be in the moment, he was always hounded by self-doubt after the fact, his fear of failure making him second-guess himself. It was a bad habit he needed to break.
Eren's group stopped, suspended from the side of the Wall.
"The signal to halt the mission!"
"All troops," Hange said to the soldiers behind her, "scatter and stand by atop the Wall!"
"There are times to be strict and times to be flexible." Erwin lowered his arm. "Adhere to the principles you vowed while giving everything you've got. Obey the chain of command. The reason we are here is to claim victory!"
Taking charge, Armin began directing the group. "Break into two groups again and search the surface! Especially above the gate! Commence the search!"
At first, they gave him dumbfounded looks but obeyed a second later. "Rog… Roger!"
The soldiers began testing the Wall, tapping their swords against the stone.
"But how are they gonna find them?" Ymir asked. "There's so much surface area to cover. It's going to take hours."
"Not necessarily," Erwin replied. "It's why Armin mentioned the gate. They know we have to pass through the gate so I'm sure they'll be hiding somewhere nearby. Especially since their scout managed to relay our arrival and the pot was still warm by the time we arrived. And of course, there is the location of the fire's remains itself. They couldn't have strayed too far from it in such a short amount of time."
"Now we know the general area of where they'll be waiting to ambush us." Hange made a note of that. "I'm sure we'll get confirmation soon enough."
"We gotta be careful not to rely too heavily on this information, though," Erwin said in warning. "This future is some time away. Things could change without us meaning to."
Levi grunted and said, "Long as we can still get other useful intel like their strengths and weakness, the tricks they like to use like hiding in the Wall if they are indeed doing that, that'll be plenty for us."
"What are they doing?" Connie muttered, standing back to back with Jean and Sasha. "Should we really be waiting like this?"
"Yeah," Jean said, "so much for our surprise attack…"
Off to the side, Eren watched with Mikasa and Levi.Armin… Did you figure something out?
Levi observed without a word.
Looking left, then right, Armin lowered himself. The sound of metal tapping against stone continued around him as the soldiers slowly continued their search.A position to react, no matter when Eren appears… A position able to see everything…
Erwin stared intently as Armin lowered himself.
If there is such a place,Armin thought to himself,it has to be in the Walls. If the enemy has no idea we know about the Titans in the Walls, and they think we'll never see it coming… Or possibly…?
To Armin's left, a male soldier blinked at the sound that resulted from his blade meeting the stone.
"That sounds like wood!" Historia gasped.
"Safe to say another point for Armin," Eren said, not surprised Armin's intuition was right again.
Petra tensed, voice straining when she said, "Why isn't he moving?"
Mikasa understood the feeling, her instincts also yellingMove!There was an enemy on the other side. Her mind would have been screaming to quickly shoot off to a safe distance first, then alert the others.
The soldier fired off his acoustic shell. "Here! There's a cavity here!"
"No, don't do that," Jean said, wincing at the loud noise.
"Get out of there!" Historia hissed, catching on.
From inside the Wall, Reiner removed the piece of wood, startling the soldier, and thrust his sword through the man's chest.
Some of them jumped.
"Damn, he should have moved first. Reiner might not have known he was there."
"Yeah, he might not have heard us testing for hidey holes in the Wall and realized we were on to him."
Eren and Mikasa flinched, Erwin too, while Levi moved at once.
The soldier fell and Armin cried out when Reiner revealed himself. "Reiner!"
Reiner didn't have time to react as Levi came down, piercing his neck with his sword, stunning the four soldiers watching.
"Did he get him?!"
"Is he dead?! He's gotta be dead!"
"He's so dead!"
"The way he just went after him. That was amazing!"
Eren was suddenly reminded of when he had accidentally transformed and his squad had been on him at once. It was why Levi had said he chose them.Because theywere like him. React first while everyone else is busy gawking.
"I keep thinking he can't get any cooler and he proves me wrong every time."
Running down the Wall, Levi stabbed Reiner in the chest with his left sword, pulling away his right hand and leaving the blade in the his neck.
"Take off his head!"
"No, get the nape!Get the nape!"
The whites of Reiner's eyes disappeared as his pupil's appeared.
At once, Levi shoved Reiner down and pushed himself away, letting his wire take him away as Reiner slammed into the ground.
"Maybe he got him!"
"Shit!" Levi cursed, crouching near Armin.
"Slippery little bastard," Levi said in annoyance.
"Is that another Titan power?!"
Reiner's body began to writhe.
"So close!" Levi said in frustration. "But I couldn't finish him!"
Mikasa could understand it all too well, having been there herself. At least his failure wasn't due to emotional attachments getting in the way.
Golden-orange lightning shot out from Reiner's body, and Eren and Mikasa stared down. Steam poured in thick waves from the Armored Titan.
"Does Reiner have a Goddess on his side saving his ass all the time? I swear this is the like the fifth time we've seen him survive an attempt on his life."
"Sixth, actually. I've counted."
"Dude, are you serious?"
"Ymir as a mindless Titan, twice at Utgard Castle, Mikasa on Wall Rose, Eren before the Colossal Titan fell on them, and now Corporal Levi."
"Let's hope there won't be a lucky number seven."
"Keep on the lookout!" Erwin told the soldiers. "Locate his allies!"
Lightning struck behind the commander.
"The Beast Titan?! Is that—"
The ground began to tremble as countless transformations created a crescent-shape of crackling light behind Erwin.
"Where did they come from?!"
"Well, that's not good."
"I expected as much. Of course they wouldn't go down without a fight."
"They had a trap of their own and we walked right into it."
"Not like we had another choice. The holes had to be closed."
The steam cleared, revealing the Beast Titan, on one knee, surrounded by Pure Titans.
The soldiers stared in disbelief at the Titans.
The Beast Titan lifted a large boulder and braced before sending it toward Wall Maria.
Knowing what was coming, they braced themselves.
"Boulder incoming!" Erwin yelled at the projectile headed toward them. "Get down!"
A cloud of dust explored and the ground trembled when the boulder hit the Wall with a resounding boom, frightening the horses of the soldiers on the ground nearby.
"What the—?!" They turned toward the source.
On the Wall, Dirk asked, "Did he miss?"
"No," Erwin said, looking down. "That was good aim. He plugged the entrance. Now the horses can't pass."
The hole was blocked by the broken remains of the boulder.
"No wonder they let us seal the outer gate," Mikasa said as it came to her. "It was a trap."
"They were letting us block one of our potential exits." Petra nodded. "With the added benefit of having Eren expend some of his energy." Even if Eren could transform multiple times now, it was still one less transformation they had to worry about.
"They'll aim for the horses and surround us in order to block our escape and annihilate us here."
The Beast Titan straightened.
"What's that Titan there?" Historia pointed. "The one with the box."
"Could that be the Cart Titan you spoke of?" Erwin asked Ymir.
"Actually, yeah. You might be right about that, Commander."
"Titans have limited capacity for intelligence," Hange said, "even the ones turned and controlled by the Beast Titan. Remember how they had a hard time following basic directions and almost killed Mike despite the fact Zeke told them not to kill him? There's no way even one of Zeke's Titans would be able to spy on us and move fast enough to find the Warriors and forewarn them of our arrival."
"But it would make sense if it was one of the nine Titans." Mikasa crossed her arms. "It would have the intelligence and speed needed to carry that out."
"We're both hoping for the same thing. To settle it here once and for all." Erwin unsheathed his sword. "Humans or Titans?!"
The Beast Titan grinned while the Armored Titan began to rise.
"Which side will live?! Which side will perish?"
An overhead shot revealed the Beast Titan with five or so dozen Pure Titans facing Wall Maria, standing in the grassy field just outside the town located at the north side of the Wall.
Historia had not expected them to show up from behind. "They've cut off our route back to home, back to safety."
"Of course," Jean said, coming to a realization. "That must be why there are no regular Titans around. They must have killed them because Titans instinctively attack the nine intelligent Titans along with humans."
"They were getting rid of an uncontrollable variable," Armin agreed, following Jean's train of thought. "Now the only Pure Titans around are the ones the Beast Titan can control. They'll only attack us, not the Warriors."
"Actually," Hange interrupted, studying her notebook, "we might have helped with that."
"What do you mean?" Levi asked and she held up her drawing in response.
"There would be way too many Titans for them clear out by themselves. Not unless they had years, which I doubt. All the Pure Titans could have started ganging up on them. I think this thing here—" she tapped the drawing with a finger "—is a Titan killing weapon."
Erwin considered that nodded. "You might be right. It would explain how so many Titans could be quickly executed. It would be very hard for the Colossal Titan to have killed many Titans. The nape is too a small target for such a large entity. And it's too slow. It would have been devoured."
"The Pure Titans would easily recover from the hot steam and keep attacking, but Bertolt would tire eventually," Ymir said. "That just leaves three."
"But that machine could be operated in shifts throughout the day," Mikasa said, eyeing the drawing.
"It's like a...Titan guillotine," Connie said wondrously.
"The Titans would keep showing up," Armin said, "attracted by the humans at the top, and it'd be like lambs to a slaughter. We could make relatively short work of them using that machine. And there wouldn't be any human casualties either."
"I must admit," Petra began, "the Royal Government sure got more cooperative. To allow resources and time to be put toward building that thing, even letting it get approved in the first place—I'm sure the Wallists must have pushed back against it, hard—but they still let it go through."
"I'll bet they tried," Levi scoffed. "But Zackly must have taken a gamble and come through for us again." And it would have paid off for him.
"But it's crazy to think we came up with something so amazing." Eren was in awe of human innovation. "Let's keep watching! I wanna see how things will turn out."
"I can't wait to see where this goes!"
"On to the next episode!"
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